Martis Creek Dam, located in the Truckee Basin north of Lake Tahoe, CA, was initially rated as one of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ highest risk dams in the United States. While the dam has performed its flood control purpose, a history of excessive seepage during even moderate reservoir levels has prevented it from also fulfilling its potential water storage function. During seepage and seismic studies to assess and mitigate deficiencies, high-resolution light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data were obtained. This imagery provides an unprecedented representation of the ground surface that allows evaluation of geomorphology even in areas with a dense vegetation canopy. At Martis Creek Dam, this geomorphic analysis resulted in the recognition of a previously unknown and through-going lineament between the spillway and dam embankment. This feature extends to the southeast, where several lineament splays are exposed on the East Martis Creek Fan. These lineaments were subsequently explored by paleo-seismic trenching at two locations and confirmed as faults with Late Quaternary to Holocene displacement. Faulting was confirmed in both trenches as unique splays of a fault zone with several feet of apparent normal (vertical) slip and an unknown magnitude, but a potentially significant, strike-slip component. Faulting was observed near the ground surface in both cases, and multiple fault events (a minimum of two) are interpreted as at least latest Pleistocene in age, and probably active in the Holocene.

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