How Many Supposedly 'Low-Hazard' Texas Dams Are Now At Risk Of Failing?

Apr 3, 2019

From Texas Standard:

Massive flood damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey brought attention to some failing dams in the Houston area. Now, it appears the problem is statewide.

A new report by the Texas Observer titled “Dammed to Fail” found that about 25% of dams overseen by the state are at risk of failing.

Naveena Sadasivam, who reported the story, says aggressive lobbying by landowners in 2011 and 2013 caused the Legislature to exempt over 3,000 dams – about half of all dams in the state – from regulation.

“The thinking was that these are small dams; they don’t hold as much water,” Sadasivam says. “And so the risk from these dams aren’t as high, and so they don’t need to be regulated at all.”

However, the onslaught of development means large populations now live directly below sites that were once classified as “low-hazard.” Also, the dams have been around for a long time.

“We’re talking about dams that were built four or five decades ago,” Sadasivam says. “You have a series of problems with that.”

Sadasivam says the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which is tasked with inspecting and rebuilding problem dams, doesn’t have the resources to keep up with the number of dams that need help.

Climate change also means that severe flooding events could become more common, which would mean more stress on the dam system. Sadasivam says the TCEQ recently commissioned a study to determine the worst-case scenario when it comes to rainfall increases, but a limited budget and staff hampered the study.

“For the most part they’re underfunded, overworked and barely keeping pace,” Sadasivam says.

Written By Sol Chase.