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Michigan task force set to make dam safety recommendations

Edenville Dam photo
Katy Kildee/Midland Daily News
Associated Press

A group responsible for offering new safety measures after two Michigan dams failed last summer destroying 150 houses and causing over $200 million damage delayed sending the governor its final recommendations, which include increased monitoring of dams and other risk reduction measures.

The Michigan Dam Safety Task Force has been working on recommendations that would require Legislature approval to reduce the threat of dam failures after two dams failed in Midland County last May, forcing the evacuation of 10,000 people.

Among the 86 recommendations from the task force is that owners of all high and significant hazard dams would be required to provide surveillance and monitoring plans to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. They also would be required to have independent reviews performed at least every 10 years. Inspections could be required annually for high hazard dams and every other year for significant-hazard dams.

The failure of the Edenville Dam, which led to the failure of the Sanford dam and the flooding of Midland County, had a history of violating safety regulations.

The task force also recommends forming a volunteer Safety at Dams Initiative Team with stakeholders, public safety officers, those involved in outdoor recreation and others to develop outreach, education and coordination with conservation officers to provide information on dam risk.

The task force is asking for an annual $20 million revolving fund for the next 20 years to maintain and remove dams. To address hazard cleanup for when a dam owner fails to act, the task force is asking for a dam safety emergency fund.

Some members of the 19-person task force voiced concern that some of the language in the recommendations was too sharp or dramatic so the the group is going to work to perform minor revisions later in the week for a quick turn around to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Task force chairman Evan Pratt said he values the sense of urgency the language provides, referring to dam safety issues in Michigan as a “ticking time bomb.” He said recommendations won’t stop dams from failing, but the task force must reduce the frequency and severity of failures. The need for change is immediate, but it will take time since information on over 1,000 dams must be collected and put in a system, he said.

“You know, how many 300-year rains has Midland seen in the last five or six years?” Pratt askd. ”How many 500-year storms has Detroit seen? How many 300-year storms has Lenawee County seen? I think we all grasp these dams are not designed for what’s going on and what’s coming our way.”