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Spencer Dam in March 2019 after it failed during a flood Photo: Nebraska Department of Natural Resources via AP
The results of a two-year investigation by the Associated Press (AP) were published this week and the findings were shocking — nearly 1,700 dams located in 44 states and Puerto Rico were rated as “high-hazard” dams that are in poor or unsatisfactory condition. Experts believe the actual number of risky dams is even higher — some states would not provide the AP with condition ratings for their dams, while other states simply don’t have ratings for their dams.
Why This Matters: The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates it would take more than $70 billion to repair and modernize the nation’s more than 90,000 dams. And there are many thousands of lives and millions of dollars of property at risk if any of these dams fail. Can you say Green New Deal? Sooner or later this nation will have to deal with its aging and crumbling infrastructure – we hope it will be sooner.
How Big Is the Problem?
Dams were built for numerous purposes — they provide flood control, irrigation, water supply, hydropower, recreation or industrial waste storage.
“Most people have no clue about the vulnerabilities when they live downstream from these private dams. When they fail, they don’t fail with a 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.”
Last March, the 92-year-old Spencer Dam in Nebraska was “straining to contain the swollen, ice-covered Niobrara River after an unusually intense snow and rainstorm. The workers had tried but failed to force open the dam’s frozen wooden spillway gates.” One local resident, KennyAngel was killed, when the dam burst “unleashing a wave of water carrying ice chunks the size of cars.” Angel’s home washed away with him in it — his body was never found. State inspectors had given the Spencer Dam a “fair” rating less than a year earlier, and when it began to fail, Angel only had a five-minute warning to get out. It was not enough time.
One of the largest chicken producers in the country — the family-owned Mountaire Corp. — agreed to pay $205 million to settle two court cases that its Delaware plants contaminated water wells, waterways, and the surrounding air with improperly disposed of wastewater.
Why this Matters: Groundwater contamination affects communities across the country. In Orange County and Oakland, California groundwater polluted with industrial waste is seeping into sources of drinking water.
By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer Over 70% of the drinking water in Orange County, California comes from groundwater. But historic manufacturing nearby has polluted it due to the improper discarding of toxic chemicals. The LA Times reports that there are three major cleanup projects involving groundwater beneath 22 Californian cities, including Anaheim, Santa Ana, […]
On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee County, Florida as a wastewater reservoir at the Piney Point facility was on the verge of collapsing and causing a catastrophic situation. As the New York Times reported, the reservoir holds nearly 400 million gallons of wastewater from a former phosphate mine […]
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