25 May 2020

Fix the dam infrastructure! - updated x2

Thousands of people in the U.S. may be at risk from dams that are rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition. An AP analysis found 1,688 dams in these conditions are high hazard, meaning their failure can cause human death.
An Associated Press interactive graphic shows the location of dangerous dams in the United States.  My part of the country doesn't have many, but my old stomping grounds back in Kentucky and Indiana are just riddled with them.

Note the graphic is interactive, so not only can you zoom to your area, but you can hover the mouse for the information shown in the top image.

I am so very, very tired of this bullshit.  American politicians have been kicking the can down the road for way too many election cycles.  Someone has to raise taxes and fix these things.  Maybe it will require electing a Socialist to get these problems corrected.

Reposted from just a month ago to add new information and a different perspective.   The source I originally cited was picked up by our local Wisconsin State Journal, which then posted an article about the dams at risk in the state of Wisconsin.

We've had significant problems, because in recent years alterations in the climate have resulted in multiple hundred-year flooding events, some of which washed out local dams, exacerbating the flooding damage:

When I wrote this original post for TYWKIWDBI, I concluded with a brief rant about elected officials who are reluctant to increase taxes to pay for upgrades (or basic maintenance) to infrastructure.  What I have now learned from the Wisconsin State Journal article is that federal, state, and local governments are not solely to blame, because many of the at-risk dams in Wisconsin were privately built.
Wisconsin has only six dams considered a risk to human safety that are in poor condition, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. Even so, eight dams in the state were washed out by record-setting rainfalls last year...

The association estimates it would take more than $70 billion to repair and modernize the nation’s more than 90,000 dams. But unlike much other infrastructure, most U.S. dams are privately owned. That makes it difficult for regulators to require improvements from operators who are unable or unwilling to pay the steep costs.

“Most people have no clue about the vulnerabilities when they live downstream from these private dams,” said Craig Fugate, a former administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “When they fail, they don’t fail with warning. They just fail, and suddenly you can find yourself in a situation where you have a wall of water and debris racing toward your house with very little time, if any, to get out.”..

All eight dams [Wisconsin dams that failed] were in fair or satisfactory condition, according to the DNR.
They all failed during extreme rain events,” said Tanya Lourigan, state dam safety engineer for the Wisconsin DNR. “They don’t have a history of being in poor condition and being neglected.”
Micheel said the historic rainfall revealed a design flaw in the dams, which are highest in the center. When spillways can’t keep up and water overtops the dam, that slope focused the rushing water toward one side of the dam, where it quickly ate into the hillside.
Investigations showed that the clay structures themselves held, but the sandstone they were attached to gave way. “They did their job for 50 years,” Micheel said. “Nobody ever envisioned them overtopping. The overtopping showed the weakness.”..

One of the goals is to install weather monitoring stations and warning systems. Another is to re-evaluate the 100-year floodplains based on current land use and rainfall patterns and how best to manage them.
“We need to change what we’re doing here,” Micheel said. “It isn’t going away.”
Mea culpa for jumping to conclusions (it's one of the few forms of exercise that bloggers get).

Reposted from five months ago to add this video of the devastation caused by the breakage of the dams in Michigan this past week:

Note these were private dams.
Unlike roads and bridges, the majority of the nation’s dams are privately owned, including about 75 percent of the dams in Michigan, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Many private dam owners do not finance regular rehabilitation projects, according to the ASCE. And if dams lose their federal licensing — and thus their power revenue — there often isn’t a clear mechanism to pay for needed repairs and upkeep. 
The ASCE gave the nation’s 95,000 dams a D grade in its most recent infrastructure report card. Their average age is 56, and as the population grows, more dams — like the Edenville and Sanford structures that failed in Michigan — are designated “high hazard,” because of the potential for their failure to result in loss of life. The Association of State Dam Safety Officers (ASDSO) has identified 2,000 dams that are in deficient condition and carry a high hazard rating... 
Many older dams have lost the purpose for which they were built: generating electricity or running mills. According to an American Rivers database, more than 1,700 such dams have been removed, including five last year in Michigan. 
And note this:
The company said that it has been working for years to manage the water levels in the lake the dam holds back, but it ended up in a dispute with homeowners in the area who were dismayed when water levels went too low for recreational use — and they sued to keep water levels higher. The state’s attorney general also sued, alleging that the low water levels were having a negative environmental impact. 
Boyce said the moves to keep water levels higher were among the main reasons the dams failed this week....


  1. I can't get the graphic to interactive for me. :(

    1. OMG - I left out the source link. Fixed, with a separate link directly to the graphic. Tx for the heads-up.

    2. Yay! Thanks you!

  2. My neck of the woods, South Carolina, isn't a wealthy state. Lexington County, where I live, is better off than most, but the majority of the county is rural, filled with small towns that run towards the lower-income residents. We were doing okay, with plans for new facilities such as a ball park and updates like a library expansion. Then the floods of October 2015 came - 20-24 inches of rain in just as many hours. The Midlands and Low Country suffered devastating losses in homes and infrastructure, flooding of precious farmlands. Other counties had worse damages. Parts of my county are still dealing with the damages. Even with some federal money and shelving local projects, the county is still short many millions for all repairs. Being involved with the county as an HOA officer, I learned all kinds of realities in dealing with government entities, whether federal, state or county, most of it a depressing education in money mismanagement. And then there's the public's demand for unrealistic expectations of how the money should be spent. I will say my county went above and beyond in the first couple of weeks after the flooding - rescue efforts were the superb experience of our first responders, hiring out-of-state debris removal services (definitely not cheap), finding and funding temp housing for those with damaged homes and the like, buying out heavily damaged homes to tear them down and replace with green spaces. Believe it or not neighbors and churches jumped in with assistance much,much earlier than the government. There's simply not a good solution that satisfies everyone in times of true hardships.

  3. Somebody pointed out that dams cause more nuclear damage and deaths than nuclear ever has.

  4. I think it's time for me to reread Jared Diamond's book, Collapse. The number of problems, such as the one you describe here, are increasing exponentially. This may sound like a far-fetched comparison/connection, but my experiences in addressing homelessness in California lead me to the conclusion that we are a society in decline. It seems that we are generating systemic failure at a faster rate than success. In this failure, I include what may appear as success, such as a booming consumer economy, which is in fact a horrible, energy sucking failure, for obvious environmental reasons. Our priorities are upside-down. I certainly wouldn't argue that the US is unique in this respect. Not at all.

  5. Maybe it will require electing a Socialist to get these problems corrected.

    What it will require to fix this is for voters to say: "Fuck Yes, I'll pay more taxes to get this stuff done."

    Yes, I'm willing to pay more taxes to not be stuck with toll roads.
    Yes, I'm willing to pay more taxes for better education for kids in the poor part of the state.
    Yes, I'm willing to pay more taxes to tackle environmental change.

    As long as voters believe that things can get done for free, or with the tax money of others, nothing will get better. In other words: You need to start electing politicians that will increase (your) taxes.

    1. Might be useful to study that post on MMT from a few weeks back...

  6. The Damn Dam Data isn't available for my state.

  7. If the owner of a private dam can't afford to make improvements/repairs then removal, or (controled) breaching, by the state if necessary, should be required.

  8. “Maybe it will require electing a Socialist to get these problems corrected.”

    Lol. Yeah, that’ll do it.

    California has been run by socialists and socialist lites for decades and is in terrible shape. The Oroville Dam that was in the news two winters ago was a near miss that potentially affected not thousands but upwards of two million people. The PG&E debacle has killed scores of people, cost Californians billions, and has been managed by the CPUC, which is managed by the CA legislature.

    But hey, at least the Bullet Train’s gonna get built.

    California is a great example of what NOT to do.

    1. California has been ran by industrialist Democrats, not socialists. There's a huge difference that is obvious if you listen to anything other than Fox news. The State and Federal Democratic committees have taken immoral and possibly illegal steps to keep actual socialists off the Democratic ticket (Sanders is a good example).

  9. The Johnstown Flood was the result of the failure of a privately owned dam. In fact, most dam failures occur with privately owned dams, including the Kaloko Dam in 2006 (6 people died, many homes destroyed), the Kelly Barnes Dam in 1977 (39 people died), and the Buffalo Creek flood in 1972 (125 people died). Most states do not have enough inspectors to regularly evaluate the stability of government built/controlled dams, much less the thousands of private dams.

    From an ABC report 11 years ago: "There are about 79,000 dams in the United States, 85 percent of them earthen, and 56 percent of them privately owned. There is worry that some owners, especially private ones, may not have the desire or financial ability to maintain their dams properly. Adding to the concern is the fact that states regulate about 95 percent of the country's dams, and many states, like Hawaii, have underfunded dam safety programs. Each state dam inspector oversees, on average, 216 dams."

    I doubt the situation has improved since then.

  10. Sad but true, it will probably take a disaster to shake us from our apathy.

  11. From today's CNN, 1/15/20


  12. Note that the floods in Michigan yesterday resulted from the failure of 2 privately owned dams:

    "The Edenville and Sanford Dams, both privately-owned by Boyce Hydro and located in Midland County, failed Tuesday evening due to rain-swollen floodwaters..."

    The Edenville dam was 96 years old. It had been inspected in 2018, found to be in "fair condition," but the inspectors had some "strong" concerns.

    Related article: https://www.theoaklandpress.com/news/state-and-local-resources-converge-as-thousands-of-michiganders-flee-homes-after-historic-flooding/article_b23b1a56-9aa7-11ea-adfd-ff627b99c414.html


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