Thursday, May 25, 2023

Who will pay for dam repairs?

The “Rainy-Dam Dam Failure” inundation map for Loon Lake Dam, showing the expected flood zone created if the dam failed during a massive storm.

We continued to run stories from our dam series this weekend. Join us as we shine a light on municipal dam owners. And dig into ways to improve dam safety drawn from the experiences of other states.

A handful of the Adirondack Park’s riskiest dams are owned by towns. Some of those towns have been slow to meet state requirements and  to pull together the financing needed to make (often costly) upgrades.

Town leaders say they need more financial support from the state to get the job done. The state says its the responsibility of all dam owners, including municipalities, to keep up with repair needs.

The other story outlines strategies that could be employed to improve a state dam safety program. Those strategies include raising funds through dam owner fees and strengthening risk analysis approaches.

The stories also explore the inundation maps attached to emergency action plans for intermediate and high hazard dams. Developed by engineers, the maps show the expected flood zone that would occur if a dam failed in different scenarios.

Those maps are a critical tool for communities to better understand the risks posed by a nearby dam (and sometimes a dam more than 10 miles upstream), but they are not easy for residents to access – at least in New York.

I obtained some of the maps through a Freedom of Information Law request and others exist in various locations online, but there is no central location to search for the inundation zones of hazardous dams. Nationwide, though, more and more dam safety officials are moving to publish those maps to better inform the public.

Better access to the maps is also recommended in the 2022 update to the Model State Dam Safety Program Manual, a document published by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Dam safety programs are determining there are more benefits to having a knowledgeable public during an emergency event than there are risks resulting from the release of this information,” according to the model program.

After a crisis unfolded at California’s Oroville Dam, the tallest in the country, state lawmakers quickly moved to require dam owners produce inundation maps and make them public. I talked to California’s dam safety director about those maps and how the 80-person strong division oversees the state’s dam inventory.

Donald Canestrari, New York’s dam safety director, told me he was open to making the inundation maps more accessible, so long as their purpose was well explained.

Image at top: The “Rainy-Dam Dam Failure” inundation map for Loon Lake Dam, showing the expected flood zone created if the dam failed during a massive storm.

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

6 Responses

  1. Bill Keller says:

    If the “state” can afford to kick in $600 million for a football stadium for a rich guy, than they should be able to kick in for dam repair.

  2. JohnL says:

    Just keep voting the same group of people in. I’m sure they’ll see the light and fix our problems after the NEXT election. C’mon, give ’em another chance*.


    • mrdale14424 says:

      That’s just it; “They are YOUR problems”, not the rest of us in the state! These municipal dams belong to your residents which means the benefits and liabilities. Don’t want to take responsibility, then tear the dam out and live with that decision.

      You vote for the same powerless “MAGA” affiliated politicians and then wonder why you have so little influence in political decisions.

      • JohnL says:

        It’s fairly clear from all the comments over the past months and years that many, if not most, people commenting on this forum are unhappy that they have so little influence on decisions in New York State, particularly as these decisions relate to our Adirondack communities. And, based on the makeup of the New York State Legislature, with its’ bullet proof super majority, I’m sure you’ll agree that MAGA had nothing to do with any of the decisions leading to this unhappiness.
        As for the dams, if the town(s) involved don’t, or can’t, do the right thing, are you prepared for the state to just sit back and see if the inundation maps are accurate when they fail? Hey, I’ve got it. Maybe we could have a never ending discussion on this forum to look for an answer.

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