So when does this constitute a crisis? I’m only going to cover dams today. Not the California power outages (plural). I am going to limit myself to dams. For today, anyway.
In my post, The Coming Dark Age, I reference an article by Victor Davis Hanson: Members of previous generations now seem like giants — When did we become so small? One of the things he talks about is dams, and how we don’t build any. Of course it appears we aren’t even maintaining any that we have inherited. Then I ran across a gif of a dam failure, and I went looking for more data. And found more than I could have realized.
On May 14th of this year, part of the spillway of a Texas dam failed. Aging steel suspected in dam failure at Lake Dunlap.
The lake is both a source of fresh water and an economic driver through recreation. Boating seems to have been (past tense) a particular driver of the economy.
What caused the failure is still under investigation, but the river authority released a statement Thursday evening saying it believes that “aging structural steel” played a role.
A similar spill gate collapse occurred in 2016 at Lake Wood, 4 miles west of Gonzales, after structural steel inside that gate failed.
This is video from May, showing the exact moment of the dam failure. You can spare the 30 seconds involved.
Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority (GBRA) owns several dams, most over 90 years old, and apparently all in need of repair. And two have failed. Unsafe zones identified in study. These dams are 90 years old. That they would eventually need repair/replacement is NOT a secret. That fact was known the day they were built. So why no plans, no savings, no action? Because as Hanson describes in the link at the top, we are a generation of social-media addicts, who can only castigate previous generations, generations who built all of our infrastructure, for their perceived failings. As if we were perfect.
The river authority has said the aging dams — all upwards of 90 years old — need their spill gates replaced at an astounding cost. Officials have said the authority has no funds to make the necessary upgrades, which has led to safety concerns with the prospect of injury should someone be on a lake or near a dam when the next spill gate fails.
So what has the authority been doing for the past 90 years? All their dams need repair at once, after 2 have failed.
And of course it isn’t just Texas that has an issue.
At about 5 p.m. on March 30, 2010, as record rainfall pounded Rhode Island, Blue Pond Dam collapsed, releasing 179 million gallons of water that raced through nearby woods before tearing into a road and washing out a bridge over Canonchet Brook.
Dam failures are almost never expected, but in the case of Blue Pond Dam the warnings were clear.
And it isn’t only one dam in Rhode Island. Dozens of dams across R.I. are considered unsafe or potentially unsafe. ‘We are literally one storm away from loss of life,’ says one expert.
The state does not know who owns 32 unsafe dams. Actions against 60 dams were pursued, but only 3 were fixed.
The State of Oregon is going to finally pony up some money to fix a dam that has been operating at 72% of capacity since 1994. Planning underway to replace Wallowa Dam. If you click thru and look at the image, it looks like the dam has failed, but apparently they reduced levels before it became a disaster.
Anticipating funding would one day become available, the district hired McMillen to draw plans for a new dam. Because of the risk of a failure, he said the dam has been running at 72% of capacity since 1994. The rehabilitated dam would provide more water to irrigators and allow for more water to be released, increasing stream flows for fish.
Plattsburgh, a city in New York, has voted to just remove a dam. City votes to petition removal of dam. Because it isn’t worth “fixing something that is broken.” (Funny, I’ve had any number of cars towed to a mechanic over the years. I didn’t realize it wasn’t worth it, and I should just buy a new car – every time an alternator or water-pump failed.)