Recent dam failures in Michigan are a reminder that humanity’s efforts to hold back rising water with aging infrastructure are not guaranteed to succeed.
The Michigan case, where two dams on the same river failed, makes it hard to point fingers at a single problem. But it provides a particularly well-documented example of what happens when a privately owned dam isn’t maintained. In a blistering piece that appeared in Slate, a former native of Midland writes about the history and current owners of one of the failed dams. The full piece is worth reading because it shows how a private dam owner can avoid making upgrades until it’s too late.
Regulatory failure is also usually a factor in dam failure: In Michigan, there are two dam safety staffers for the whole state and 2,500 dams, the Detroit Free Press reported. In New York, as of 2018, there were 11 staffers looking out for more than 5,800 dams.