When October’s historic rain event and flood caused lake Elizabeth dam to fail and create massive damaged to Wilson Boulevard in Columbia, local business owner Gregory Peter thought things would be back to normal in a few months.
In May, Peter said “Its seven months now, and we don’t know what’s going to happen.” What Peter does know is that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, DHEC, has given the owners of the dam until July first to advise the regulatory agency of their intentions. Peter said he’s lost 90% of his business since the flood and July first may be too late.
"By God’s grace I have another store. That’s what's supplementing my income. But I’ve got family to support,” Peter said.
At least 23 dams, most of them privately owned, failed in Richland County during October’s historic rain event and flood.
According to the Association of State Dams Safety Officials, overtopping of a dam is often a precursor of dam failure. National statistics show that overtopping due to inadequate spillway design, debris blockage of spillways, or settlement of the dam crest account for approximately 34% of all U.S. dam failures.
Over half the dams in the United States are privately-owned. It is the responsibility of owners to do maintenance and repairs to dams. When private dams fail and cause damage to nearby public roads, dam owners must first repair their structures before the department of transportation will make repairs to the roads.
In South Carolina, Robert Dickinson is District Engineering Administrator with the department of Transportation. He said his department is very eager to fix Wilson Blvd., but they are waiting for things to be settled with the dam first.
WATCH: SC Public Radio takes you along one of the Wilson Blvd. detours .
“If they abandoned it, there’s still things that they would have to do.” Dickinson is referring to the two options dam owners have. Owners can decide to repair the dam or permanently breach the dam.
“They would permanently release the water, which is probably going to involve taking down the spillway structure that’s there. So it kind of reverts back to a normal stream,” Dickinson said.
“But once all that’s done and there’s no chance that water can impound up against the road again, we will put together what we call a design-build. We would hire a combination of an engineering firm and a contractor that will actually design it and build it and do it as quickly as possible,” he added.
It’s Not an Uncommon Problem
Clashes between public roads over private land are not uncommon. In 2016 Jolly Pound Road in James City County, Virginia was damaged when the dam breached during a storm. The road would remain closed for nine months.
A July 5, 1989 storm that hit the Mantua Township of New Jersey caused the spillway pipe under Boody Mill Road to crack. The road served as a dam for a private, 30-foot-deep lake. Five years later, a solution and settlement was reached.
Ken Smith is a past president of the Association of State Dams Safety Officials. As he recounts the events surrounding the 2010 Lake Delhi Dam breach , he said the biggest challenges that dam safety programs have, nationwide, is funding.
Delhi Dam, also known as Hartwick Dam, was an embankment dam on the Maquoketa River 2.5 km southwest of Delhi, Iowa that created Lake Delhi. The dam was over-topped and subsequently failed on July 24, 2010 after a period of heavy rain.
From the Reporter's Desk
The mission of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials is to improve the condition and safety of dams through education, support for state dam safety programs, and fostering a unified dam safety community. Click here to learn more about this organization.
Once every four years, America’s civil engineers provide a comprehensive assessment of the nation’s major infrastructure categories in ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure (Report Card). Click here, for the 2013 report card.
The vast majority of dams in the USA are regulated by state dam safety programs. Click here for the South Carolina State Dam Safety program.