Capital of South Carolina, Columbia was face to face with a disastrous flood that wrecked homes, and buildings and caused over a dozen deaths. Yet more tragic was the breakdown of over a dozen dams. Like any other infrastructure, only after a breakdown, the dams are under the inspection of the authorities. Although the major cause behind the mishap is the sudden heavy rainfall, there are other problems that mainly revolve around the dam.
Outdated technology and age of the dams-
In the recent ‘Report Card for Infrastructure’, the American Society of Civil Engineers marked America’s dams as ‘D’ because almost 4000 dams in America are in dire need of repair. Almost 3000 dams were built in the 20th Century. More than half dams in Carolina that collapsed were more than 100 years old.
Also, over the decades, the design of the dams have remarkably improved. Earthen dams of recent times have sluice pipes and spillways to drain off excess water without causing trouble which these old dams don’t have.
Changes in land use around the dam–
The water withholding capacity of a dam depends on what it was constructed for in the first place. Considering almost all of the dams are decades old, they were built with way lesser capacity to hold water as compared to water flow in today’s landscape. The forests surrounding any dam would absorb water but due to urbanization, those forests have been cleared which has increased the runoff of water drastically, causing the inefficiency of the old dams.
Change in weather-
Just like the landscape, the weather pattern has changed too. Rainfall has drastically increased in areas that were comparatively drier and vice versa. This combined with the weakening of dams over time leads to a huge problem that is often ignored. John France, National Dam Practice Leader with the international firm AECOM and a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers said, “The engineering community is working on this problem, but right now we don’t have good models that tell us how much to adjust our plans based on changing climate.”
Lack of Maintenance and Funding-
There are 87,000 dams in America with the majority in need of remodeling. Maintenance of all the dams is economically very difficult. It would cost around 54 million dollars for repairing every dam in the country according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. Removal of orphan dams is also an important venture which needs to be undertaken but is held off due to lack of funding.
This is in fact a trouble that cannot be neglected anymore because as Mr. John France said, “When people think of a dam they often think of a giant concrete structure, like Hoover or Coulee Dam, but the vast majority are made of earthen materials.” These materials can erode and cause the dam to collapse and cause bigger chaos and loss of innocent lives, if not prevented.