Monday, March 29, 2010

Damn Dams

It's raining again. I know you don't need the weather report from me to figure that out, but it is. Raindrops are bouncing off of the pavement and the beating against the roofs of cars. All the usual spots are puddling up and I had a tough time getting into my car without getting my feet wet.

Of course for many around the state the issue is bigger than wet feet. Homeowners who just finished bailing out flooded basements are fearing they'll have to do it all over again. The Commonwealth is issuing flood warnings and rolling out the sandbag defense.

Meanwhile a rather timely article in yesterday's Boston Globe reports that many of Massachusetts' 'high-hazard' dams have gone uninspected. Dams identified as high-hazard would cause serious property damage and possibly loss of life if they failed. One of them is owned by the city of Fall River, the Terry Brook Reservoir dam in Freetown.

The Terry Brook Reservoir is part of Fall River's "abundant water supply" and is not currently used as a source of drinking water.  The dam is listed as being in "poor" condition, one step up from "unsafe".  It is an earthen dam, with considerable erosion and "woody vegetation" growing on it. Now obviously none of this happened overnight. This dam has been neglected for decades and I can only imagine that if the dam ever fails Fall River will face more lawsuits than it will know what to do with.

Now the good news is, this is an issue that we've been aware of for a while, at least the last 4-6 years and a plan of action is underway and work is set to begin later this spring. The estimated cost is just under 1 million dollars, although earlier stated estimates are for 1.6 million. The problem is this seems to have take place all very quietly and low key with very little interest or attention paid to it. In 2008 the City Council voted to raise the water rates to pay for the needed repairs. Mayor Correia said the work would begin in the spring of 08 and continue through 09. What happened? A review of the Environmental Notification Form is also troubling, because while I am no dam engineer, it appears that the course of rehab being chosen is the least expensive. Personally I think THAT is something that should have merited some open discussion and maybe some public input. Terry Brook is only one of several dams the city is responsible for maintaining.  What repairs are needed at the other dams? What are the plans are in place? What is the timeline for these repairs?
I think it's time we had a little more dam discussion!

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