A final report by a task force charged with providing a thorough review of the condition of dams in Michigan has provided 86 recommendations for improving facility safety, suggesting that deterioration of the state’s dam infrastructure has historically outpaced investment, leading to a lack of funding for addressing problem structures.
The report by the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force was submitted yesterday to Governor Gretchen Whitmer who, in the wake of two dam failures in Mid-Michigan in May 2020, ordered the review of dams in the state, and a review of the state’s ability to provide comprehensive oversight of more than 2500 structures not regulated by the federal government, approximately 1100 of which are regulated by the state.
The report says that in order to reduce the risk of dam failures important improvements can be made, such as providing financing for maintenance, repair and removal of dams; bolstering authority and resources for the state’s Dam Safety Program; addressing emergency preparedness in case of failure; and increasing public awareness.
“Aging dams, just like all infrastructure throughout Michigan, suffer from a lack of consistent investment, which must be addressed if we want to avoid future tragedies,” said Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and a Task Force member. “EGLE is moving forward with changes we can make — such as hiring three dam safety engineers — and is eager to partner with other stakeholders to prioritize and implement these important recommendations in a timely manner.”
According to the report, the state is heading toward a grave situation with many dams if significant investments are not made in the short and medium term. Continuing on the current path of underinvestment is a violation of the public trust, could lead to tragic loss of property and life and is ultimately more expensive to Michiganders to remedy.
The report’s legislative, regulatory and departmental recommendations fall into the following categories:
- Funding for Dam Maintenance, Repair, and Removal: Develop a revolving loan and grant program to provide financing for maintenance that prioritizes risk reduction.
- Legislation and Authority: Revise and adopt laws and rules to clarify responsibilities and roles of owners and the engineers they hire, state agency personnel and federal entities; address land-use issues; raise public awareness and ensure owner accountability. Also, better communications and transparency is needed for sharing relevant dam information between the state and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
- Improving Dam Safety: Require owners to meet their responsibilities through licensing, maintaining adequate financial security and setting aside sufficient funds for maintenance and ultimate removal of the dam. Also recommends requiring owners of high and significant hazard dams to have periodic independent comprehensive reviews by a qualified team.
- Compliance and Enforcement: Use state Dam Safety Program (DSP) resources efficiently through prioritizing portfolio-wide compliance and enforcement, and updating EGLE violation management policies.
- Emergency Response: Develop robust and integrated Emergency Action Plan (EAP) to address hazard emergencies.
- Program Management, Funding, and Budgeting: Suggests a proactive, risk-based approach by EGLE and DSP to manage and inventory the more than 1,500 dams the state regulates.
- Safety and Security at Dams: Develop and implement EGLE programs related to security, public safety and public awareness, such as public outreach and education initiatives, signage templates and enhanced public online interactive mapping tools.
- Outreach and Awareness: Schedule safety awareness seminars for internal and external stakeholders to develop a dam safety culture in Michigan. Target audiences would be state agency personnel, county officials, dam owners, floodplain managers and residents, legislators, consulting firms and tribal leaders.
Over the course of five months, the 19 members of the Task Force held 22 public meetings and workgroup sessions. The public had multiple opportunities and avenues to provide input and many of those comments are included in the report.