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In The News
USDA Farm Bill Investment Funds 150 Dam Rehab Projects
7-21-14 | Farm Futures
USDA will spend $262 million on rehabilitating dams per the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA announced on July 18.
The funding, which will provide rehabilitation assistance for 150 dams in 26 states, can be used for planning, design or construction. The outlay is detailed in the 2014 Farm Bill, which increased the typical annual investment in watershed rehabilitation by almost 21-fold to recognize infrastructure's role in flood management, water supply, and agricultural productivity.
Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller and Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, recognized the announcement in Oklahoma, where the first full watershed plan and structure was completed by USDA on private lands in the 1940s.
USDA invests $262 million for dam rehabilitation per farm bill outlays.
From the 1940s through the 1970s, local communities using NRCS assistance constructed more than 11,800 dams in 47 states. These watershed management projects provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, and improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.
In addition to the 150 dam projects that will be funded, 500 dam sites will be assessed for safety through NRCS' Watershed Rehabilitation Program.
The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250,000 people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.
For a complete list of the projects, please visit the FY 2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table page. read more
Texas Law Reducing Dam Inspections Sparks Criticism
Move Raises Concerns As Drought Threatens to Weaken Earthen Barriers
7-9-14 | Wall Street Journal | By Julia Harte
DALLAS—Texas has stopped inspecting 44% of the dams in the state, following passage last year of a state law that exempted most privately owned dams from safety requirements.
Now, as a drought dries up large portions of the Southwest, some dam-safety experts and officials are questioning the law, saying the dry spell is leaving webs of cracks along the surface of earthen dams that may make them weaker—and prone to triggering floods—when rains eventually fill them up again.
"There are dozens of dams out there, if not more, that potentially could impact people. But you're not really sure until they've been looked at," said John Wolfhope, a civil engineer based in Austin who sits on the National Dam Safety Review Board and who testified about an earlier version of the law.
That view of the legislation is shared by safety officials in surrounding states, whose dams also face a threat from the parched conditions.
State regulators across the Southwest are on heightened alert for dam failures due to the recent prolonged drought. In New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, all dams are inspected. Those whose failure could kill people are inspected once a year, while dams whose failure could cause economic damage are inspected once every three years.
Following complaints from private owners, Texas lawmakers exempted privately owned dams holding up to 500 acre feet of water, or about 163 million gallons, from state regulation in all but the most populous counties. The changes took place through legislation first approved in 2011 and broadened last year.
Roughly 3,200 dams were exempted. Of those, 216 could cause economic loss, environmental damage or disruption of lifeline facilities if they failed, according to a presentation prepared by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
No other state has deregulated dams like Texas, said Lori Spragens, executive director at the national Association of Dam Safety Officials. The law "just doesn't make any sense from a safety standpoint," she said.
Ralph Duggins, an owner who testified in favor of the change, said he was ordered to carry out $50,000 worth of safety studies on his three-decade-old dam in rural Johnson County after state officials noticed that new houses had been built downstream. read more
Drought among the worst in Texas in past 500 years
5-13-14 | San Antonio Express-News | By Scott Huddleston
SAN ANTONIO — The drought that has South Texas in its grip is among the top five extended dry spells in the past 500 years, and soon may rise to the top three, the state climatologist said Tuesday.
"The question arises, is this something that is going to be the new normal?" state Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon told the Edwards Aquifer Authority board a day after the year's heaviest rainfall, 2.5 inches, brought some relief, but not enough to even dent the drought.
El Niño conditions resulting from a rise in Pacific Ocean temperatures and historically known to bring more rain to the Southern U.S. "definitely seem to be on the way," he said.
That raises the prospect of a cool, wet winter and up to 5 inches of rain beyond normal, he added.
In the long term, changes in the global climate are expected to produce more rain in Canada, less moisture and flooding in Mexico and more intense weather extremes in Texas, said Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist since 2000.
"We're in one of those parts of the world where we could see both worse droughts and worse floods," he said. read more
In Central Texas, Drought Threatens Hydropower
3-10-14 | The Texas Tribune | By Jim Malewitz
Central Texas' years-long drought could eventually snuff out a renewable power source that fueled its early growth: hydropower.
Faced with dwindling water supplies, the Lower Colorado River Authority, which supplies water and energy to much of Central Texas, is limiting downstream water releases for activities like rice farming. Aside from stirring controversy among water users, the changes have also shrunk the amount of electricity the agency generates from its six Colorado River dams.
"Your hydropower becomes an innocent bystander of the conditions around it," said Robert Cullick, a former LCRA spokesman who is now a consultant.
LCRA's more recent curbs on downstream releases has sped hydropower's decline.
The agency now generates just about a third of the hydropower it did in 2011, the last year that most rice farmers received Colorado River water.
If the drought persists, said Ryan Rowney, executive manager of water operations at the LCRA, water levels could "within several years" plummet below levels needed to turn the agency's hydropower generators.
"We have models and things, but we don't truly know how quickly the lakes will fall," Rowney said.
As a low-cost, no-pollution energy source that can be quickly turned on and off, hydroelectricity is a coveted power source, said Webber, but it's a "pretty limited option" for Texas, whose geography and climate are ill-suited for it. And since the state long ago dammed up its best rivers, it is unlikely to grow much — if at all — in the future.
"You're driven by Mother Nature," he said. "And Mother Nature has already voted." read more
If Rains Refill Reservoirs, Can Texas' Dams Hold Up?
11-26-13 |National Pubic Radio/Texas | By Michael Marks
Recent rain and snow haven't been enough to replenish Texas' water supply. Years of drought have taken their toll on the state's reservoirs, some of which remain nearly empty.
Eventually, the reservoirs should fill back up. (Hopefully.) But it's unclear if Texas' infrastructure will be able to hold back the waters once that happens.
Experts say that Texas' dams have incurred severe damage because of the drought and subsequent rains. Dry conditions can cause cracks to form in the dams, which undermines their structural integrity.
This is especially true of earthen dams that are made out of soil and other natural materials, according to Warren Samuelson, head of the Dam Safety Program at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
"[The drought] causes the dams to move, sort of," says Samuelson. "Cracks are created because it's dry, and so you have the shrinking and swelling of the soil because they're earthen structures."
Nearly 97 percent of the dams in Texas are earthen dams, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' National Inventory of Dams.
Drought can also crack concrete dams by shifting the soil. As the ground around the dam moves, Samuelson says that cracks will "develop through the bottom, up from the concrete."
And those problems can be exacerbated by rain. Rain causes two main issues for cracked dams: it increases the size of the cracks, and it increases the amount of water that the dam must hold back.
"You get a rainfall event, all the water goes down in the crack. And then you have a more fluid situation in the dam, which can result in slides, and possibly even failure of the dam," Samuelson says.
Samuelson says he has found cracks that are as large as five inches across by four feet deep. But according to him, that's not something people think about when they're building a house or a business. read more
The Texas Association of Counties, an important stakeholder in dam safety and Emergency Action Planning, has posted a summary of a Texas House of Representatives hearing on the impact of exemptions to dam safety inspections and EAPs contained in revisions to the Texas dam safety laws.
Dam Safety Rule Changes May be Short Lived
10-13 | By Bruce Barr, CFM, TAC County G.I.S. Analyst
On Sept. 26, the House Committee on Environmental Regulation, chaired by Representative Wayne Smith, heard testimony regarding the implementation of dam safety rule changes passed during the last legislative session. The interim charge states that the committee shall: "Examine the impact on dam safety of provisions passed in HB 2694 (82R) and develop recommendations, if any, regarding risk to downstream property and life. read more
In October 2013, National Public Radio's StateImpact Texas team produced a four-part series about hazardous dams in Texas, the 2013 changes to exempt some dams from inspections and EAPs, and secrecy regarding who owns dams and their hazard classification.
1. Why So Many Dams In Texas Are in Bad Condition
10-14-13 | NPR | By Mose Bruchele
Of the 1,880 dams inspected by the TCEQ since 2008, 245 were found to be in bad condition, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Around 2,000 of the state's dams were built with federal help in the wake of the great drought of the 1950s. Almost all of those are now past or nearing their projected 50-year lifespan, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. listen and read more.
2. How Hundreds of 'Significant Hazard' Dams Escape State Inspection in Texas
10-15-13 | NPR | By Mose Bruchele
In 2008, the Texas State Auditor's office released the kind of report that keeps public officials awake at night. It found that state regulators were not ensuring the proper maintenance of thousands of dams in Texas. The audit found that state inspectors had never visited hundreds of dams that could cause loss of life if they failed. listen and read more
3. Want to Learn About a Nearby Dam? In Texas, Some Questions Are Off Limits
10-16-13 | NPR | By Mose Bruchele
In the FEMA booklet "Living with Dams," the agency urges people to "ask questions" about the condition and hazard rating of dams near their homes. But here in Texas, no one needs to answer those questions. listen and read more
4. Aging Dams, Booming Growth, and the Search for Solutions
10-17-13 | NPR | By Mose Bruchele
Aging and lack of maintenance are affecting both private and public dams in the state, but so is an absence of money says Warren Samuelson, the Manager of the Dam Safety Program for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "What we need is what some other states have done, they've designated a pot of money where owners can come in that have issues with their dam and try to get some funds based upon whatever criteria is set up," Samuelson said. listen and read more
Lewisville Lake Dam in need of repairs, officials say
09-03-13 | Dallas Morning News | By Wendy Hundley
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is looking for ways to shore up the 58-year-old Lewisville Lake Dam after a study found that its deteriorating condition put it in a "very high risk" category.
Officials stress that there's no immediate danger of the dam breaching. But the level of concern is heightened because of the density of the population downstream. "Dam failure is not likely, not at all," Anita Branch, project engineer for the corps' Fort Worth District, said at a public meeting in Lewisville. The meeting that drew about 45 residents sought public input as the corps begins a three-year initiative to determine the best ways to repair the 6-mile-long structure. read more
First federal flood-control inspection finds flawed levees across U.S.
01-17-13 | Dallas Morning News | by John Flesher and Cain Burdeau
NEW ORLEANS — Inspectors taking the first-ever inventory of flood control systems overseen by the federal government have found hundreds of structures at risk of failing and endangering people and property in 37 states. read more
• Dallas' Trinity River levees deemed safe after long and expensive process
Scientists warn of increased risks to Texas from hurricanes and tropical storms
08-29-12 | Dallas Morning News | by Randy Lee Loftis, Environmental Writer
Hurricane Isaac's arrival on the Louisiana coast — on the seventh anniversary of Katrina — points out a growing danger in Texas.
Scientists warn that risks from hurricanes and tropical storms striking Texas' long, low coast are increasing. Causes, they say, include faster sea-level rise and stronger hurricanes from global warming, wetlands destruction and coastal development. read more
Dallas proposal would allow drilling near levees
05-20-12 | Dallas Morning News | by Randy Lee Loftis, Environmental Writer
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is so concerned that natural-gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing might damage its dams and levees that it doesn't want any wells within 3,000 feet of them. Not so the city of Dallas. Already, it has collected millions of dollars by leasing out possible gas-drilling land that's slap up against its Dallas Floodway levees — land that would be undrillable if Dallas adopted the corps' policy. read more
Corps and Dallas city officials explain cheaper fixes for Trinity River levees
10-04-11 | Austin American-Statesman | by Steve Thompsonand Michael A. Lindeberger
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dropped its opposition to a cheaper fix for the Trinity River levees long supported by Dallas city officials, announcing Monday that the city may use a less-expensive material to erect seepage walls needed to protect the troubled levees. That will bring the cost of repairs to Dallas' flood-protection system down by millions of dollars. What it doesn't guarantee, however, is that the repairs will meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency's requirement that the levees protect Dallas from a 100-year flood. read more
Most Texas dams would go unregulated under House-passed bill
05-08-11 | Austin American-Statesman | by Tim Eaton
The vast majority of dams in Texas would no longer have to meet state safety requirements if a Fort Worth lawmaker gets his way.
The proposal by Rep. Charlie Geren to end state oversight of most dams came up on April 19 during a long day of debate on a bill to continue the operations of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates private and public dams. Geren, a Fort Worth Republican, portrayed it as a tweak in the legislation designed to protect rural farmers and ranchers. It passed without objection. read more
Dam repairs: Lake Athens routine changes to be made
03-09-11 | The Athens Review | by Jon Humphries
ATHENS — On Tuesday, the Municipal Water Authority agreed to spend $236,442 on needed repairs to the Lake Athens Dam. The repairs come on the recommendation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, following their recent inspection of the dam. read more
Environmental group sues to obtain Falcon Dam safety records
02-01-11 | ValleyCentral.com | Joey Horta
An environmental group has filed a lawsuit to get their hands on documents related to the safety of Falcon Dam. The Falcon Lakereservoir is the Rio Grande Valley's main water supply. read more
Safety of Rio Grande Dams in Question – U.S. Agency Sued to Disclose Flooding Maps, Emergency Plans and Dam Conditions
01-31-11 | Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility | Kirsten Stade
Washington, DC —The safety of two large international storage dams on the Rio Grande River and the adequacy of emergency plans in the event of failure are at the heart of a lawsuit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). A federal border agency's refusal to release repair status reports, inundation maps and preparedness plans leaves communities on both sides of the border in the dark about chances of and damage from flooding due to dam and levee breaks. read more
City OKs plan for lake emergency
01-21-11 | dailysentinel.com | by Robbie Goodrich
A 2011 requirement by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is making owners of dams file a plan of action should there be a failure in the dam. The Lake Nacogdoches Emergency Action Plan approved earlier this week by the city council delineates procedures necessary to deal with a potential or actual breach of the Lake Nacogdoches dam. The plan outlines contacts and the fan-out of phone calls that would occur in the event there may be a danger or a hazard from dam failure or dam over-topping. Creating the plan was a requirement of TCEQ and had nothing to do with a fear that the Lake Nacogdoches dam might fail. read more
Hundreds testify at Dallas hearing on safety of ash from coal-burning power plants
11-26-2010 | Dallas Morning News| By Randy Lee Loftis
Hundreds of people packed a public hearing Wednesday in Dallas to sound off on a federal proposal to label the ash from coal-burning power plants a hazardous waste. Texas, the nation's biggest coal-burning state, also leads in producing coal ash. Power companies either bury it in landfills or impoundment ponds, or sell it for use in concrete, bricks and other products. read more
When 'Judge Wolff cried wolf'
10-09-2010 | mysanantonio.com | by John W. Gonzalez
Eight years after drawing brickbats for questioning the stability of Medina Dam, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has received thanks – and a symbolic piece of the dam – from the entity that operates the nearly century-old structure. read more
Interview with Ron Butler, of DamSafetyAction.org, on KETR, 88.9 in Commerce
09-03-10 | KETR 88.9 | interviewed by Scott Harvey
Tropical storms moving inland and seasonally heavy rains can stress Texas dams that pose a significant hazard potential. Emergency Action Plans help dam owners, emergency managers, and area residents be prepared if there is a problem with a dam. listen to the interview
State keeping eye on dams and levees
07-19-2010 | The Brownsville Herald | Emma Perez-Treviño
The Texas Division of Emergency Management has been keeping an eye on the operations of the dams and levees in South Texas, according to public records. read more
Safety may be jeopardized as Rio Grande dams need repair
07-18-2010 | The Brownsville Herald | Emma Perez-Treviño
The Rio Grande Valley remains possibly at risk after officials have not followed longstanding recommendations to shore up river dams along the U.S.-Mexico border. read more
Retaining pond dam breaks, floods neighborhood
06-09-2010 | mysanantonio.com | by Eva Ruth Moravec
A gopher hole may be to blame for a retention pond's broken dam that flooded a South Bexar County neighborhood early Wednesday, causing about 30 people to be evacuated, authorities said. read more
Agents feared Mexican drug cartel attack on border dam
06-02-2010 | chron.com | by Dane Schiller and James Pinkerton
An alleged plot by a Mexican drug cartel to blow up a dam along the Texas border — and unleash billions of gallons of water into a region with millions of civilians — sent American police, federal agents and disaster officials secretly scrambling last month to thwart such an attack, authorities confirmed Wednesday. read more
Update on Texas Dams (PDF)
2009 | by Martha F. Juch
According to the old adage, a flood can be expected to end a drought in Texas. September finally brought rain to central Texas, and although some localized flooding occurred, the good news is that we are better prepared for future rainfall events due the actions of our state politicians during the most recent 81st Texas Legislature. Responding to data gathered from both House and Senate Interim Studies and associated hearings, several key actions have been taken in Texas to improve Dam Safety this year. read more
Enhancing Dam Safety for Texas
09-24-2009 | tceq.state.tx.us | by Liz Carmack
The TCEQ Dam Safety Program, which monitors and regulates both private and public dams in Texas, is expanding. Dams are a vital part of the national infrastructure and provide an infinite number of benefits to society. Dams provide drinking water, flood protection, renewable hydroelectric power, navigation, irrigation, and recreation. However, dams can also represent a public safety issue. A dam failure can result in loss of life, economic disaster, and extensive environmental damage. read more
Owners lose lake after dam breaks
01-09-2008 | news8austin.com | by Veronica Castelo
Dams in Texas are in trouble. They're aging, they're surrounded by homes they were not built to protect, and they are not being inspected. Last week Rhine Lake dam in Van Zandt County failed. Rhine Lake is about 70 miles east-southeast of Dallas. read more
The enormous US dam problem no one is talking about
01-03-2006 | csmonitor.com | by Gaylord Shaw
The landscape of America, at last count, is dotted with 79,272 large dams. Most of them safely deliver bountiful benefits - trillions of gallons of water for drinking, irrigation, and industrial use, plus flood control, recreation, hydroelectric power, and navigation. That's the good news. Here, in my opinion, is the bad news: Disaster lurks in thousands of those dams. read more
Town faces up to Rita challenges
09-25-2005 | news.bbc.co.uk | by Verity Murphy
Livingston has a population of 10,000, most of whom stayed put during the storm as Hurricane Rita was not expected to hit here. Most homes are without power and have damaged roofs. Police chief Clifton Dennis says there are an extra 6,000 people in the town, who fled here from Houston. read more