In #Colorado, 24 High-Hazard Dams Are Seen as Problematic — Claims Journal

Lawn Lake Flood

From the Claims Journal (Mark Volz):

Two dozen aging dams in Colorado were in unsatisfactory condition and are located in places where their failure would likely kill at least one person, according to an Associated Press investigation that found at least 1,688 such dams nationwide.

The 24 Colorado dams range in age from 41 to 127 years old and are used for irrigation, recreation and drinking water supply, according to public records obtained by the AP during the more than two year investigation. They are spread among 16 counties, with El Paso having four, Jefferson three and Mesa and Park counties having two each.

Records show the dams are up-to-date with their inspections, and all have emergency action plans in case of a failure. In addition, work is underway or planned for some of the dams, and at least one in El Paso County, South Lake dam, has been repaired, said Bill McCormick, chief of Colorado Dam Safety at the state Division of Water Resources.

Twenty-one of the 24 Colorado dams are privately owned or owned by local governments, and the decision to fix a dam is the owner’s, McCormick said. State regulators can order a reservoir’s water level lowered to a safe level if a dam is in unsatisfactory condition or drain the reservoir if there is no safe level.

“If owners can live with less than full storage, they may not have the incentive to fix their dam,” he said in an email to the AP. “We try to incentivize owners to fix their dams, but the decision is theirs.”

[…]

In September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded Colorado over $260,000 to conduct risk assessments and repair high-hazard dams, the term used to describe a structure whose failure would likely result in at least one death…

Since 1950, there have been six major dam failures in Colorado, according to a 2018 Colorado State Hazard Mitigation Plan. They include the 1982 Lawn Lake Dam failure in Larimer County that killed four people and caused $31 million in property damage.

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