With more than 80,000 dams in the United States – a third of these classified as either “high” or “significant” hazards to both life and property upon failure – Dam Safety Week reminds us all of the importance of infrastructure upgrades and routine maintenance.
While dams are beneficial to many communities in their ability to store drinking water and improve wildlife habitats, they can also act as a dangerous flood risk if failure is reached. Many dams in the US are approaching their life span of up to 100 years, which makes maintenance a crucial aspect of any dam community, and lack-there-of a major risk to public safety. Additionally, failures can cost our economy millions of dollars in damages.
For example, from January 2005 to June 2013, state dam safety programs reported 173 dam failures and 587 “incidents.” Specifically, during the 2013 Colorado floods, after 20 inches of rainfall, six dams failed in one day alone and at least a dozen dams overflowed. This resulted in an estimated 19,000 damaged homes, a loss of $2 billion in property damage, and ten deaths. Even the recent events of the Texas flooding show how imperative dam safety is. The Padera Lake dam fractured as a result of groundbreaking flooding. Luckily, despite being on the brink of failure, the dam held.
United Water recognizes the critical nature of dam structures and the imperative need to ensure their integrity. In that light, the company is in the midst of a major safety upgrade at Woodcliff Lake Dam in Bergen County, New Jersey. The company is raising two reservoir embankment areas, rehabilitating the dam’s low level outlet (including piping and valve improvements, as well as a new upstream shutoff valve), constructing a wall at the base of the dam to impede additional storm water, and building a new auxiliary spillway that will be able to safely pass very large storms. This project will improve the dam infrastructure to withstand a storm event that would be equivalent to nearly four times the intensity of Tropical Storm Floyd.
Fortifying the Woodcliff Lake Dam is critical for the safety of the residents who live downstream of the reservoir. This safety upgrade will help to ensure that residents that live downstream of the dam will be protected from catastrophic harm and property loss.
We are pleased to mark this year’s Dam Safety Awareness Week knowing we are making a contribution to the safety of the nation’s dams.