ASDSO marks 10th anniversary of Hawaiian dam failure

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Ka Loko Dam failure on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) recognized the anniversary as an example of the consequences from a major dam failure and said, “It reminds us of the potential dangers posed by dams and the critical importance of both responsible dam ownership and strong dam safety programs.”

According to ASDSO data, nationwide, the amount of high-hazard-potential dams, or dams whose failure would cause the loss of human life, is more than 11,700. Of those, about 15% are considered deficient, or susceptible to failure.

On March 14, 2006, Ka Loko Dam failed after 40 days of heavy rainfall overtopped the dam in the vicinity of where the dam’s original spillway had been filled in by the owner. The failure sent about 400 million gallons of water four miles downstream until it reached the Pacific Ocean.

The flood of water killed seven people, caused millions of dollars in property damage and left a path of extensive environmental damage.

Relevant information:
State dam safety
Eagle Mountain
South Carolina dam safety

“Most dam failures are preventable disasters,” said Lori Spragens, ASDSO executive director.

“Dam owners must keep their dams in the state of repair required by prudence, due regard for life and property and the application of sound engineering principles. The quality of dam maintenance, emergency planning and enforcement programs directly affects the safety of communities, as sadly demonstrated on Kauai. With more than 87,000 dams of regulatory size in the U.S., we all have a stake in dam safety.”

ASDSO calculates it would take about US$18 billion to bring these dams up to current safety standards. The organization said inadequate funding is often the primary impediment to dam rehabilitation efforts and it is imperative that funding sources are developed to meet this need.

ASDSO supports federal and state legislative efforts to create loan and grant programs for dam rehabilitation funding and works with dam owners and state and federal lawmakers to create and maintain strong dam safety programs.

Since the catastrophic Ka Loko Dam failure, according to ASDSO, Hawaii has increased funding for its dam safety program. The improved regulation of local dams has helped keep citizens safe and allowed downstream communities to thrive.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for

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