YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A dam failure scare in California brought up questions about the stability of our dams in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
In Oroville, California, nearly 200,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes after the nation’s tallest dam started leaking.
Locally, there are four flood-control, high hazard dams and 207 dams of other classes.
The Mosquito, Berlin, and Kirwan dams in the Mahoning Valley and Beaver, Pennsylvania are the four high hazard, or high-priority, dams. They work to prevent flooding in the area and are similar to the dam in Oroville.
The Army Corps of Engineers’ Dam Division out of Pittsburgh covers those dams.
Mahoning River dams experienced a high water event on January 12 and 13 due to the excessive rain. Oroville is seeing a high water event right now, but Dam Safety Inspector Jeff Fritz said a potential failure like that shouldn’t happen here.
“All of our high hazard dams undergo an evolution of inspections,” Fritz said.
He said workers at the dams inspect them every day. Additionally, the Pittsburgh District team sends out engineers for inspections every year and extensive inspections every five years.
“Every five years, we send out a team with electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, geotechnical, hydraulic engineers, geologists, and they do a comprehensive inspection of the dams,” Fritz said.
Their assessment looks for potential failure, analyzing the hazards and risks.
None of the high hazard dams in the Pittsburgh District have ever failed. Collectively, they prevent over $3.3 billion in damage to the areas downstream.
Still, each dam has an emergency action plan just in case.
“If there’s situations that could lead to a failure or an emergency, that would be a high priority, that would get funding,” Fritz said.
Representative John Boccieri said the money shouldn’t start pouring in just when there are big problems, though.
“We haven’t had major investments in our highways and infrastructure programs for roads, and bridges, and thoroughfares for a long time,” said Rep. John Boccieri.
He said there is legislation in the Ohio House to try to fund more yearly updates and renovations to the dams.
“Ultimately, it’s going to have to take a federal fix. There’s trillions of dollars in investments that need to happen.”
Each of the dams must follow federal regulations, whether they’re state- or privately-owned.