Ecology Orders Immediate Repairs for Dams

 The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has completed a statewide dam inspection campaign and has ordered immediate repairs for 11 private dams and reservoirs at risk of failure, according to a Dec. 23 press release.

In two months, Ecology inspected 95 private dams and reservoirs built without permits -- an effort to prevent dam failures that could flood homes downstream. The inspections began after the agency identified hundreds of dams from publicly available aerial photos - dams that weren't listed in its dam inventory. The structures, often used in farming as frost control ponds or to store the waste from large dairy farms, apparently were built without permits and inspections.

"This was the largest dam safety inspection campaign we've done since the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001," said Doug Johnson, Ecology's dam safety supervisor. After the Nisqually event, more than 300 dams received at least a cursory inspection for earthquake damage.

The inspection and permitting program is designed to prevent the kind of catastrophic dam failure that has occurred in other states such as the March 14, 2006, collapse of the Kaloko dam on Kauai, Hawaii, which killed seven people.

"Fortunately, we discovered these dams before there was a major failure, and lives and property downstream were spared devastating flood waters," Johnson said.

Of the 95 dams identified as large enough to come under Ecology's jurisdiction, the agency's Dam Safety Office found 30 dams to be "high hazard" (three or more homes downstream), 11 to be "significant hazard" dams (one or two homes downstream), and 27 to be "low hazard" dams, with one or no homes downstream.

Ecology found 11 high or significant hazard dams needing immediate repairs. Eight of these dams are in Yakima County. Legislators and county commissioners across the state were notified before the inspections began, and county emergency management agencies and legislators were copied on Notices of Correction sent to owners of those dams needing immediate repairs.

To stay in compliance with the governor's hiring freeze, the dam safety inspections were completed without additional personnel nor by contracting for inspection services.

Names and locations of dams requiring immediate repairs are available at
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/dams/unpermitdam.html.

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