Dam safety strong concern in wake of Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew

Dams and other water retaining infrastructure systems across the southeastern United States are being tested after Hurricane Matthew slammed the Atlantic seaboard.

Flooding has perhaps been worst in North Carolina, where 15 have already been confirmed dead and officials near Spring Lake spent much of last night evacuating the area downstream from Woodlake Dam.

Located on the Lower Little River, the dam impounds a 10,000 acre-feet reservoir and was rated as one of the state’s largest high-hazard dams last year.

State and county inspectors feared that a failure could cause up to three feet of additional flooding and had at one point yesterday declared a breach to be “imminent”, though officials now say the structure is stable and that no further evacuations are planned.

North Carolina’s Lake Upchurch dam was also reported as being near the overtopping level, while a number of smaller dams breached or were near breaching.

Elsewhere in the southeastern U.S., South Carolina’s Emergency Management Division last week warned dam owners and operators to lower their reservoir levels in anticipation of flooding. Hurricane Matthew caused particular concern given the large number of dams within the state that failed during a period of historic rainfall last fall.

The S.C. governor’s office said yesterday that it had concerns about 250 dams in the state, though more than half had been inspected as of the time of this writing. Still, reports indicate that at least seven in the Pee Dee and Midlands regions have failed, leading to flooding in the Little Pee Dee, Lumbar, Waccamaw and Black Rivers.

Reports from other states hit by Hurricane Matthew have not been readily available. This story is updating.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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