Drought Threatens Edwards’ Dry Lakebed

Edwards AFB, Calif.—California’s prolonged drought is threatening the utility of Rogers Dry Lake, the centerpiece of the runway complex here. Spaces below the lakebed where water used to collect are now empty voids, and fissures “are coming up to the surface,” Dave Sampson, 412th Operations Support Squadron airfield manager, told Air Force Magazine during a mid-April visit. A number of wide cracks and sinkholes have appeared; they are severe enough that they could prove catastrophic for an aircraft rolling across them at high speed. Edwards can temporarily “fix” the cracks, taking material from what Sampson called a “borrow” pit at the periphery of the lakebed and using specialized equipment to inject it into the spaces. Nature finishes the job when it rains, smoothing and leveling the surface. However, a permanent cure will only come with a series of light rains over a long period of time, gradually refilling the water table, said Sampson. Prolonged drenching rains that could quench California’s thirst could actually hurt Rogers, potentially causing portions of the surface to collapse into the voids below, he noted. Adjacent Rosamond Dry Lake “is in far better shape,” he said, because a local treatment company dumps wastewater onto the flats, keeping Rosamond “relatively healthy.” Rogers, however, has not flooded since 2004. The longer the drought continues “the more fissures we’ll see,” said Sampson. “This is very dynamic. … They can open up overnight,” he said. Sampson said his team monitors the lakebed constantly to make sure test pilots know what portions of the runway are usable and which ones to avoid. Rogers was famous as the alternate runway complex for the space shuttle.