Environment
5:48 pm
Mon April 25, 2011

Dam Breach a Reminder of Potential Hazards

A dam breach in Moore County didn't put the public in danger. But it did serve as a reminder of the many dams in North Carolina that could be more dangerous if they failed. Mell Nevils, Chief of the Land Quality Section of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which includes the North Carolina Dam Safety Program, says the dam in Moore County was classified as an "intermediate hazard" meaning there was a likelihood of property damage in the event of a failure. But North Carolina has about a thousand "high hazard dams" meaning people could die in the event of a failure. 

Mell Nevils: "So we have a very large number of high hazard dams. If those fail for whatever reason, there's a good likelihood that somebody would be killed."

A small number of those have plans in place to deal with a catastrophe. But most don't because owners aren't required to have a plan.  Nevils says one of those plans saved lives in 2003 when the Hope Mills Dam failed.

Nevils: "We have been working with dam owners to get emergency action plans. We've put on some workshops and we've sent out letters to all the dam owners reminding them they need to have one. But there is no requirement to have one, so a lot of dam owners do not. There are a lot of dams out there that people don't even know they're there, or that the owners, you know, they don't think about them. And so all of the dams on our inventory we have to inspect on a routine basis and notify the owners if we see a problem. High hazard dams, it's once every two years. And if they fail, somebody could lose their lives."

He says the dam in Moore County was last inspected 2 years ago. 

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