Dam Problems: A National Concern

· Reading Time: 4 minutes

Dams. They’re everywhere! According to National Geographic, there are about 90,000 dams in the United States. And, just like people, they age. And when they age, they start falling apart.

Recent news has been inundated with California’s Oroville Dam and the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people that took place over the weekend due to a failing spillway. If the Oroville Dam’s spillway were to fail, the results would be catastrophic. And, just this past weekend, we’ve seen that such a failure is very plausible.

So what about the thousands of other dams across the nation?

Herein lies the problem. Many of the dams dotting the countryside were constructed as low-hazard dams, put in place to protect agricultural land; land that was, at that time, undeveloped. Now, however, cities have since expanded and the formerly undeveloped land is now the home to thousands (if not millions). In fact, Oroville (for which the dam is named) has practically doubled in size since the dam was constructed.

 

Oroville Dam spillway - by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources
Heavy water flow at the Oroville Dam spillway – Photo by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources

 

How Old is Old?

Dams don’t seem to age as well as people (so consider yourself lucky you were born a human and not a dam), but despite that flaw, they can still live for quite some time, albeit a little fragile. Only 4.5% of all U.S. dams were built since the year 2000 (4,000 dams). The oldest, however, were built before 1900 (2.8%). Most, however, were built between 1950 and 1980. And those are the ones considered old.

The average age is 52, according to USA Today. Getting up there in age, but not quite ready for retirement. Perhaps we could squeeze just a few more years of work out of them… Still, because of how dams age,

The problem with keeping these dams in operation is that nearly 15,500 dams are high-hazard. That means if these dams were to break, at least one person would be killed, but many more would be likely (the term “high-hazard” actually has no relation to the dam’s actual condition). Add that to the fact that “nearly 1 in 5 lack an emergency action plan,” and countless people are living in very dangerous conditions – most likely without even knowing it!

USA Today reported that only three states – Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee – have emergency plans in place for all high-hazard dams. It would appear that everywhere else is, well…hosed.

Fortunately, there are ways to prepare. If we look at the Oroville Dam evacuation, there are some important lessons to be learned that will help you be safe should you be faced with a similar predicament.

 

  1. Get an Emergency Kit

Emergency kits are life savers in a very literal sense. They have the gear and supplier you need to survive an emergency, and should contain enough to last you for at least three days. Kits should contain gear for warmth, communication, light, and other essentials. Food and water is also important.

 

  1. A Full Tank

If you have a car, truck, or other similar mode of transportation (which most people do these days), keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. During the Oroville Dam evacuation, many people were stranded on the road because of gridlock, their vehicles out of fuel because they couldn’t get to a gas station to fill up. Also, many gas stations shut down due to lack of fuel, causing more problems for motorists.

 

  1. A Place to Stay

Many evacuees were without a home, forced to dwell in shelters, churches, and anywhere else they could find a roof. The no vacancy lights on the surrounding hotels, inns, and other temporary housing units lit up almost instantaneously following the evacuation order.

In a different scenario, perhaps you won’t even be able to find shelter? Maybe everything will already be full? What then? That’s where a shelter comes in. A tent, a tarp…anything you can use to protect yourself from the elements can be quite handy when you have no place to go. Prepare now for the worst, and the worst will be better than expected.

 

 

All in all, disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. There is always something. Nobody is immune. That’s why preparing for the future is vital. Take some time today – while the metaphorical sun shines – to get your emergency prep together. Make sure you have everything you need for yourself and your family. If you’re missing things, don’t delay; make time to acquire those items.

Because when the next disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Written by Steven M.

 

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