How safe are Georgia's dams? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

How safe are Georgia's dams?

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August 12, 2007

Warwick -- America's dams are a vital part of our nation's infrastructure supplying drinking water, flood control, irrigation and energy to millions across the country.

But just how safe are America's dams?

In the days that followed the aftermath of the deadly bridge collapse in Minnesota, concerns were immediately made over the safety of America's bridges.

While alarming research showed that in many cases some of countries most traveled bridges were deemed structurally deficient, another critical part of our nation's infrastructure should support just as much concern - our nation's dams.

Gene Ford, Plant Supervisor for the Lake Blackshear Dam in Crisp County explains some of the upkeep process.

"We keep the earthen portion covered in grass. We also monitor that on a yearly basis. We have a surveyor to come in and check the monuments for any movements. We haven't had any noticeable movement on any of that."

Just last week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission inspected the Lake Blackshear Dam. It passed their inspections and was listed as safe.

But alarmingly, 10% of Georgia's dams are classified as "high-hazard". This means that in the event of dam failure, there is a possibility of loss of human life and property downstream.

The term "high-hazard" doesn't necessarily reflect the overall integrity of an individual dam. But in the case of an unsafe dam, if it were listed as "high-hazard" and failed, the end result could be catastrophic.

A 2005 survey conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers showed that of the 4,500 dams in the state, 105 were determined to be deficient dams, while nearly 400 were listed as "high-hazard".

To repair or rehabilitate Georgia's dams it would cost just under $300 million, and there is noticeable lack of dam safety funding across the country.

As recent as 2001, the ASCE's infrastructure report card gave national dam safety a grade "D", with lack of available funding largely behind the low grading. This leaves much of the upkeep and maintenance in the hands of the dam's operators.

Ford said, "We're responsible for maintaining the earthen portions, the spillway gates, and the powerhouse integrity. We have seen no reason for any potential concern."

But while the Lake Blackshear Dam is listed as safe, unfortunately the same cannot be said about the more than 2,000 unsafe dams across the country.

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