Tuesday, August 01, 2017

States paying more attention to risky dams

The Federal Emergency Management Agency classified about 14,000 of the more than 87,000 dams in the U.S. as "high hazard potential" in 2016, and some states are taking it seriously.
A map of U.S. dams shows that many are rated "high hazard." (FEMA map)
California officials have ordered the owners of 93 dams, many of them utility companies, to inspect their flood-control spillways. The inspection was prompted in part by the failure of the Oroville Dam north of Sacramento in February, which caused 188,000 downstream citizens in small towns and rural areas near the dam to evacuate. The list of dams to be inspected includes some of the largest in California, but the number is still less than 10 percent of the 1,250 dams overseen by the state's Department for Water Resources dam safety division, Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow report for The Sacramento Bee. The dam safety division wrote in a letter to the dam owners that preliminary assessments of the dams, which are 70 years old on average, "may have potential geologic, structural or performance issues that could jeopardize its ability to safely pass a flood event."

In Virginia, about $1.15 million in state grants has recently been dedicated to upgrading 72 dams in the state. More than half are classified as "high hazard", which means they pose the greatest threat to life and property if they fail, Spencer Burke reports for WVIR-TV in Charlottesville. Albemarle County Environmental Services Chief Greg Harper told Burke, "Some of the dams around here started out as being farm ponds, so a lot of the construction techniques maybe weren't that great."

In Kentucky, where the eastern coalfield has many dams rated as high hazards, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate awarded the state Division of Water a $200,000 grant for a pilot project on dam safety. The funds are to be used to research and "develop instrumentation monitoring and flood warning systems for dams," The Associated Press reports. The state anticipates additional funding in 2018 to execute the plan on a state-owned dam.

In Oregon, legislators have approved a bill that would "require the owners or operators of high-hazard dams to develop emergency action plans for their structures," Michael Harris reports for HydroWorld.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article164021327.html#storylink=cp

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