Local News

Officials Say Few Of N.C.'s Dams Have Emergency Plans

Posted May 29, 2003 6:14 a.m. EDT

— About 10 percent of the country's high-risk dams are in North Carolina, but few have emergency plans, state officials say.

About 150 owners of approximately 1,000 high-risk dams in the state have an emergency course of action, said Jim Simons, director of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources' division of land quality, which regulates dams.

"It is a problem when you see a lot of high-hazard dams out there without an emergency action plan," said Lori Spragens, executive director of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. "If you have a good action plan in place, you can save a lot of lives. It is one of the most effective ways of mitigating a disaster."

Four dams in Hoke and Cumberland counties failed Monday and Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but one family was rescued by boat as water rose in a first-floor living area.

Gov. Mike Easley visited the area Wednesday.

Twelve state inspectors visited the area on Monday and Tuesday to survey the area and check on other dams facing increased amounts of water. The inspectors communicated their tests back to Raleigh, where officials marked the dams on maps with yellow Post-It notes.

Mell Nevils, the state's Land Quality Section chief, had written "OK" on notes for about six dams by Tuesday afternoon. Damage from the breached dams was minimal, he said, because the banks of the lakes contained the overflow.

"We got out pretty lucky," he said.

Simons said North Carolina oversees approximately 4,800 dams, one of the most in the country along with Texas and Georgia. There are another 60,000 to 70,000 that are too small for state oversight.

The state's extensive growth is increasing the number of potentially dangerous dams, state officials said. Many subdivisions are built around bodies of water that used dams for irrigation.

In some cases, inspectors don't even know that dams exist or whether they could cause serious damage if they failed, said Doug Miller, a regional engineer with the state's land quality section.

"There are dams out there that we have not had the resources to get to," Miller said.