Dam safety; requirements of Soil and Water Conservation Board's Impounding Structure Regulations. (SB276)

Introduced By

Sen. Edd Houck (D-Spotsylvania) with support from co-patrons Del. Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg), and Del. Ed Scott (R-Culpeper)

Progress

Introduced
Passed Committee
Passed House
Passed Senate
Signed by Governor
Became Law

Description

Dam safety. Allows those dams that do not comply with dam safety regulations to continue to operate so long as the owner of the dam has adopted a dam safety emergency action plan. These dams could continue to operate without correcting any deficiencies as long as funding is not available through the Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund. Once such funding is available the dams will have to comply with all of the dam safety regulations. Read the Bill »

Outcome

Bill Has Passed

History

DateAction
01/12/2010Prefiled and ordered printed; offered 01/13/10 10103230D
01/12/2010Referred to Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources
01/25/2010Reported from Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources with amendments (14-Y 0-N) (see vote tally)
01/26/2010Constitutional reading dispensed (40-Y 0-N) (see vote tally)
01/27/2010Read second time
01/27/2010Reading of amendments waived
01/27/2010Committee amendments agreed to
01/27/2010Engrossed by Senate as amended SB276E
01/27/2010Printed as engrossed 10103230D-E
01/28/2010Read third time and passed Senate (40-Y 0-N) (see vote tally)
02/08/2010Placed on Calendar
02/08/2010Read first time
02/08/2010Referred to Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources
02/08/2010Impact statement from DPB (SB276E)
03/03/2010Reported from Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources with substitute (22-Y 0-N) (see vote tally)
03/03/2010Committee substitute printed 10105778D-H1
03/04/2010Impact statement from DPB (SB276H1)
03/04/2010Read second time
03/05/2010Passed by motion rejected
03/05/2010Read third time
03/05/2010Committee substitute agreed to 10105778D-H1
03/05/2010Amendment by Delegate Scott, E.T. agreed to
03/05/2010Emergency clause added
03/05/2010Engrossed by House - committee substitute SB276H1
03/05/2010Passed House with substitute with amendment (97-Y 2-N)
03/05/2010VOTE: --- PASSAGE EMERGENCY (97-Y 2-N) (see vote tally)
03/09/2010House substitute with amendment agreed to by Senate (40-Y 0-N) (see vote tally)
03/09/2010Title replaced 10105778D-H1
03/13/2010Enrolled
03/13/2010Bill text as passed Senate and House (SB276ER)
03/14/2010Signed by Speaker
03/15/2010Impact statement from DPB (SB276ER)
03/15/2010Signed by President
04/08/2010G Approved by Governor-Chapter 249 (effective 4/8/10)
04/08/2010G Acts of Assembly Chapter text (CHAP0249)

Video

This bill was discussed on the floor of the General Assembly. Below is all of the video that we have of that discussion, 3 clips in all, totaling 3 minutes.

Comments

Pat Rowland writes:

Thank you Sen. Houck for introducing this legislation.

Neil Buttimer writes:

Great Bill! Many of the arbitrary administrative dam reclassifications add nothing to public safety. This legislation will expose the unnecessary cost of runaway regulatory excess.

Doug Rogers writes:

Outstanding bill, could put some common sense inot this topic of dam safety

Maggie Johnston writes:

Bravo, Sen. Houck! Your legislation is very important and will make a trememdous difference to many people, not to mention the Virginia state government.

Ernie Meier writes:

Once again you have shown your outstanding leadership abilities as well as your dedication to your constituents.This bill when passed will allow for a reasonable common sense approach to dam safty within the Commonwealth and eliminate the adversarial approach as is practised by the soil and water conservation board.Thank you.

Tom Sheridan writes:

Excellent Bill to require funding to assist Dam Owners who have received onerous reclassifications due to the recent enactment of new Dam Safety regulations. Perhaps the State will revisit the current subjective interpretation of "probable" vs. "possible" loss of life which is behind most dam reclassifications.

Eldon Rucker writes:

This bill provides a reasonable approach to allowing consideration of actual risk rather than arbitrary stringent requirements. It also recognizes the importance of avoiding unnecessary economic hardships in a time of recession. Thank you Sen. Houck

Gene Grynkiewicz writes:

Where on Earth does it rain 37in. in a 24 hour period and when is it expected to happen here? The previous governor did a Pontius Pilate act and washed his hands when asked to get involved in this. Thank you, Sen. Houck.

Tim Zello writes:

This bill should become law ASAP and save millions of dollars of unnecessary spending.

Jean Peterson writes:

It is my understanding that Gov. McDonnell has stated a priority on reducing VA State Govt. spending. This bill needs to be passed to save the State from spending money needlessly fixing up dams that meet current codes such as the LOW dam.
I hope this bill can be passed during the current legislative session! Thanks to Senator Houck.

Mary Szadvari writes:

Thank you Sen. Houck for this common sense bill and not spending money unnecessarily.

Tom Roach writes:

Knowing that state owned dams affected by the regulation will not be modified because of lack of funds; the requirement that LOW comply with the regulation amounts to a tax increase on a limited group of citizens; namely, those residents of Lake of the Woods. Seems patently unfair to me. Thank you, Sen Houck for attempting to right this obvious wrong.

John and Judy Barnes writes:

Thanks to Senator Edd Houck who has worked and worried so long and hard about our problems with enforcement of these sensless criteria. Please support his bill and vote YES!

Pierce Crowell writes:

The current regulatory conditions are prejudicial against private dam owners at a time when the state, by not fully funding the Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund, may continue operating its dams indefinately. If passed, the state can apply safety priorities across all dams, public and private, equitably.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

I'm confused. I don't know anything about dams, but why would we want to allow an unsafe dam to continue to operate? Having an "emergency action plan" is cold comfort when faced with a burst dam. That's like allowing a zoo to stay open, even though the fence around the tiger exhibit is only three feet tall, because they've got an "emergency action plan." Yes, fine, but what about the tiger mauling?

Could somebody explain how this isn't a really bad idea?

GTlenn Blanchard writes:

Passage of this bill will right a completely
unsophisticated, faulty researched, requirement
for all the dams in the state and save millions
of dollars.

Bob Johnson writes:

Full disclosure: I live in the Lake of the Woods community. Yes it is a really bad idea, but it is just one of the really bad ideas coming out of government today--state, local, and federal all. As we have seen here in Virginia, NY, and now Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, we the people have awakened from a long nap. Politicians who ignore our call for common sense, less government, less spending, and criminals in our government will reap what they sow. I for one am retired and I need a hobby. You politicians and government workers (I was one) are it. Shape up or we will ship you out.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

I've even more confused now, Bob. Are you saying that the government—any any level—should have nothing to do with how dams are constructed? Just let the free market sort it out?

lsc writes:

The beautiful thing about this bill is that it doesn't even bother to argue that the dams in question are safe. Sure, they are gonna burst open and wash out hundreds of homes (you know who), but they have a plan on file that could maybe save some of the lives downstream. Forget about the highway and homes, because the big bad storm statistically probably won't even happen this year. After all, the State, which has responsibility for more dams than anyone, hasn't fixed all of their dams yet, so why should anyone else have to fix theirs.

Guess what, people who own dams are going to spend the money someday. It will either be spent on making their dams safe, selling their property for less because of the huge liability, or maybe even just paying lawyers/plaintiffs for the flood damage they caused.

I live downstream. My bet is on the lawyers.

Anthony Quattromani writes:

Thank you for asking such sensible action. Spending in these tough times needs to be controlled - your bill will slash non sensical spending!

paul kennedy writes:

Do you knot realize that it was global warming that
affected the thinking of the Virginia bureaucrats to make such a determination.
Thank you State Senator for clear thinking that has not been clouded by green house gases

Janet Thompson writes:

My husband and I would like to thank you for your support. The idea of 37 inches of rain in a 24 hour period is outrageous! Thanks you for listening -- more politician need to do this and more people need to speak up and speak out loudly to those we elect!

Michael Dwyer writes:

We seem to have complied with what is required of us at LOW by having an above and beyond "emergency action plan", so this bill would be allowing us, and other dams that fall in the same catagory, to move forward without having to do something that is unnecessary. Thankyou Sen. Houck

Bill Halpin (1/330) writes:

Finally on the right track -- well done!

Michael Zello writes:

Thank you for sound reasoning,the heart to listen, and the will to act.

Kay Zello writes:

Thank you!

William Wemmerus writes:

This is a common sense bill - probably should have been submitted years ago.

Norm Sahley writes:

Thank you for this bill. When it passes, a wrong will be righted and prove again that clear thinking should prevail.

Paul & Jane Tobin writes:

A commom sense bill that will prevent unnecessary spending. It brings reason to the subject.

Larry Ervin writes:

I think a realistic approach presented by this bill should be used to prevent unnecessary expenditures on dam modifications.

ed tate writes:

Thankyou sen houck for helping us right this wrong

William & Janet Davis writes:

Thank you Senator Houck. Glad someone finally started thinking.

John Rueckert writes:

Finally some sanity to these rediculous regulations! If this bill doesn't pass, the state should have to bring all of their dams into compliance before forcing private dams to do so. Thanks to all who support & vote to pass this bill - you will all be gratefully remembered!

Katherine Lovello writes:

This is a prudent idea to prevent gross over-spending on a hypothetical and improbable occurence. There will be many severe flooding issues all over the region if there is ever 37" of rain in 24 hrs- not just LOW dam.

Robert Jenks writes:

The 37in/24hr requirement is a good example of a bureaucracy run amok. Thank you Senator Edd Houck for bringing some common sense to bear on the issue.

John and Shirley Cavanaugh writes:

Thank you Senator Houck for presenting this bill that affects so many people.

Frank Buttimer writes:

Thanks, Sen Houck. Your bill brings common sense to an issue that makes no sense at all. Safe dams - yes, but expensive overkill - no.

Robert Riffe writes:

Thank you Senator Houck for thinking of the people and avoiding unnecessary expenditures of the state and its citizens.

Ken Kaltenmark writes:

Thanks Sen. Houck for listening to the people of VA to get some common sense into this issue.

kaye writes:

What happens to folks downstream when the dam breaks?

Bob & Fran Curtis writes:

Please support and pass SB276

It will save Virginia Millions of dollars
that can be spent far more wisely

Waldo Jaquith writes:

There's no point in asking, Kaye—these folks all live in this "Lake of the Woods" retirement community that has a dam that they don't want to pay to fix, and none of them are apparently interested in anything other than registering their support of this bill.

Michael Murphy writes:

Thanks for this effort! This requirement is a waste of money that very few people have at this time, not to mention that the requirement itself is unrealistic. The Dam at LOW is good one and stable. If the rules are changed, then the state should pay for or pay a majority of the required changes. This is bureaucracy, pure and simple. Luckily we have a legislator who is willing to help right a wrong.

Doug Rogers writes:

Waldo Jaquit, I would like to contact you and go over the dam regs and hwy this is good. but leaving for Folrida today and we be back 2/17. Whne i return i would like talk this is not a simple email. Thansk doug

Waldo Jaquith writes:

I'm not looking to have anybody explain this to me, and certainly not explain it privately, but to explain it publicly, on Richmond Sunlight, so that the hundreds of people who have looked at this bill can understand. Enlightening me privately helps me. Enlightening me publicly will help many people.

Linnea Ross writes:

Waldo and Kaye - The requirement LOW folks are concerned about states essentially that we need to prepare for an amount of rain in 24 hours that we have never come close to in the history of recorded weather. (Other than possibly in Noah's day.) It was way overkill. Another reason these folks (I am one) are so upset is that the damns that are owned by the state will NOT have to make the same changes we are being forced to come up with because the state can't afford it. IF it is really so neccessary, the state should also have to update their damns...(which of course means) ...more taxes...or a special tax..So if you live in Virginia - you need to check out this bill and see for yorself that it rights a wrong - not just because it costs money to me - but because the new regulations were ridiculous.
Thanks Sen Houck for your hard work on this issue. Please vote yes on this issue.

Shane Quinlan writes:

Thank You, Sen. Houck.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

Linnea, could you point everybody to where we can read these requirements? No doubt that's a fun number for y'all to toss around, but I have a strong feeling that the rain requirement is just one part of a much larger set of requirements that are going to be shirked here.

If Sen. Houck had the courage of his convictions, I'd like he'd do the real work that's necessary here, and proposing modifying the requirements that are apparently so onerous. Instead we have this bill, which I'll admit is rhetorically clever, but does nothing to solve the claimed problem of unrealistic requirements for dam construction.

Suzanne Brady writes:

Waldo, I would like to address your reference that Lake of the Woods is a retirement community. I have been a real estate broker here for more than 10 years and would say that 65%+ of the properties here are being purchased by families with school-aged children. The parents commute to Northern Virginia, Quantico, Charlottesville, and Richmond. Proof needed? We have built 2 new intermediate schools in the past 6 years.

Lynn Hein writes:

Thank you Senator Houck. Hopefully we can get the Commonwealth of Virginia to revisit the onerous and, I believe, unrealistic requirement of the 37 inch 24 hour rainfall amount which dams must be built to meet.

Kaveh Zomorodi writes:

It is nice to have state funding for improving dam safety but until then it is not wise to delay making our dams safer. An emergency action plan does not make a dam safer against failure; it just recognizes the hazards associated with a dam failure. As someone who has worked in this field for many years and has served in dam safety committees and projects I oppose this bill. The potential risk to people’s lives and properties and infrastructure downstream of any unsafe high hazard dam is just too great to justify the benefits of not paying now to upgrade those dams.

lsc writes:

Waldo, you are exactly right. This bill does nothing to address the issue of unsafe dams, and completely circumvents the reasonable argument of what a proper design criteria for dams would be, by replacing it with "if the State can't afford to do it, why should we have to?"

The current Dam Safety Regs are available on DCR Division of Dam Safety and Floodplain Management's website. Basically what they say is that if the failure of a dam would endanger lives, then that dam's spillway needs to be sized to pass the maximum possible storm, based on data provided by National Weather Service, USGS, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and all those science guys. It would at least be reasonable to revise the rainfall totals or spillway requirement, unfortunately that is not the case with sb276.

To explain it more clearly, the people who live around lakes have the means to hire lobbyists and introduce bills. It could save them money on a construction project. The people who live downstream from lakes? They are probably too busy working 9 to 5 to notice.

The Federal government did not think the risk of a large storm was great enough to justify increasing the height of the levies in New Orleans either. I mean, come on, that type of storm could never happen. Look at all the money they saved...

Joe Wilkes writes:

First of all, the 37 inches in 24 hours is considered this region's probable maximum precipitation (PMP) over that duration (24 hours). Though we have never received 37 inches of rain in 24 hours, we (United States) have received storms equal to the PMP over shorter durations. Therefore, there is proof that the PMP is not near as outrageous as many folks state here.

Unfortunately, if this bill passes, it will take a dam failure that causes loss of life to overturn it. We've had such dam failures in the past that brought these regulations into being. How easily we forget.....

Waldo Jaquith writes:

Waldo, I would like to address your reference that Lake of the Woods is a retirement community. I have been a real estate broker here for more than 10 years and would say that 65%+ of the properties here are being purchased by families with school-aged children.

I'm not sure that it makes any material difference here, but good to know. :) From many of the comments here, I'd gained the impression that we were dealing with a relatively old crowd.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

I've read just a little bit about Virginia dam regulation this evening, and I don't think it's as crazy as residents of this subdivision make it out to be.

The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star editorialized about this last year, and they provide some alarming information about the Lake of the Woods dam. This dam is one of the larger ones in the state, built back in the 1960s. Just a decade later the Army Corps of Engineer gave it an inspection, and they called it a "high-hazard structure," finding that the spillway could only accommodate two thirds of the amount of water necessary for a dam holding back 500 acres of water. That problem is compounded because if the dam failed, it's "probable" that people would die, and certain that there would be significant loss of property (by the Army Corps' estimate). Then, in 1987, the Soil and Water Conservation Board deemed the dam unsafe, issuing them only a conditional permit to continue to operate it, and ordered them to repair it. It took two years for the Lake of the Woods homeowners' association to agree to fix it. Then they didn't fix it. LOW demanded a delay, and they got it. Then another delay, and they got it again. Twelve years passed while they stalled. Then LOW hired a lobbyist to get the dam safety regulations reconsidered. It worked—they were reconsidered—but when the state reconsidered the regulations, they saw no need to make any of the changes that LOW wanted. This business about 37 inches of rain in 24 hours is has nothing to do with the state—that's the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) weather modeling for a worst case scenario for this very location, and that's what a dam of this size (a Class 1 dam, as it's known—the biggest kind) has to be able to handle.

So, yeah, now they've got to pay $5.6M in fix their dam; it would have been a lot cheaper if they'd done it 25 years ago. That cost will be spread out among the homeowners, via an assessment that will be pretty expensive, hence their interest in seeing this bill pass. The Free Lance-Star concludes their editorial by writing:

In 1995, torrential rains caused Timberlake Dam in Campbell County to fail, killing two people and causing extensive property damage. And in 1999, Hurricane Floyd, which dumped 24 inches of rain in Franklin in 30 hours, caused a dozen dams in eastern Virginia to give way.

The law is clear: It's the responsibility of dam owners to ensure they comply with state regulations. Lake of the Woods has had a 30-year stay of execution. Now it's time to dig deep and fix the dam.

Jim and Linda Ogletree writes:

Senator Houck,

Thanks for helping correct a "wrong" regulation.

Jake Wendell writes:

Can someone please explain to me what is "wrong" with the dam safety regulations? I understand them. It seems to me that most of the folks on here care about money, and not safety. Have you seen how well EAPs in other areas have the country have worked recently? In addition, let's say the capacity of this LOW dam is sufficent. I assure you that there are existing dams whose spillways do not have even close to the capacity of the LOW dam. These dams can and will fail in a large storm. Must we, as citizens, be responsible for forking over the tax dollars necessary to fix these dams just because a bunch of folks in Orange County don't want to take responsibility to fix their asset?

Tom Sheridan writes:

Jake,
There is nothing wrong with the Dam Safety Regulations, just with the State's administration of determining "possible" vs "probable" loss of life. Possible requires dams (Like LOW's) to withstand 21 inches of rain in 24 hours. Probable requires dams to withstand 37 inches of rain in 24 hours. The State is administering "there is a probable loss of life", if a residential building interior could "get wet " as a result of a dam failure. In LOW's case, engineering models have determined six houses would get water in the interior (all basements), approximately 1 1/2 hours after the dam is breached, This is also approximately 3 1/2 hours after the six houses would have been notified to evacuate based on the Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Would you say this situation yields a probable or a possible loss of life? Is loss of life likely?

The Dam Safety regulations require all engineering analyses be conducted by professional engineers (P.E.) licensed to practice in Virginia. The "gets wet" is not based on an engineering analysis or model. However the U S Army Corp of Engineers and FEMA have many such models which estimate the loss of life due to a dam failure, all of which the State has chosen to ignore. If the State used any of these models, only the truly unsafe dams would be required to modify their spillways to withstand 37 inches of rain in a 24 hour period.

Waldo Jaquith writes:

A letter from William G. Browning (the director of the Division of Dam Safety and Floodplain Management) to the general manager of the Lake of the Woods, back on June 19, 2008, reads:

The [Lake of the Woods] Association concluded that these homes and the resultant damage that would be caused by a sunny day dam failure results in a Class I (high) Hazard determination.

If I understand this—and the language is pretty plain—the Lake of the Woods itself acknowledges that its dam is of the most hazardous class, and that the damage from a best-case failure would be sufficiently great to warrant regulation accordingly.

Bethann McCarthy writes:

Fourteen years ago in New Hampshire, we had a dam failure that resulted in the death of a person that lived downstream of the dam. The dam failed during a typical New Hampshire spring flood. The dam had an Emergency Action Plan. The area flooded by the dam failure was just about identical to that mapped in the Emergency Action Plan. The woman that was killed was not notified that she was at risk due to a dam failure.
Even the best Emergency Action Plans cannot ensure that everybody in harm's way will be safe. There are too many variables. Dam failures can occur without prior warning. People's actions are unpredictable. There is often not enough time to notify everybody in the affected area. An Emergency Action Plan is not a substitute for safe maintenance of a dam.

Arthur Christian PE writes:

For the state of Virginia to overrule 30 years of nationwide engineering and scientific criteria formulated to give dam owners minimum design and repair standards shows a lack of sound judgement. But to do so in such a broad way by relying on Emergency Action Plans as the main method to protect downstream property and more importantly residents is unconscionable.

Dams can fail due to many types of flaws. The lack of spillway capacity is just one of them. At least a failure due to lack of spillway capacity occurs during a flood, when residents who live along the watercourse are aware that a problem exists. However, other types of failures can occur and those failures happen with very little notice, which usually minimizes the effectivness of an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). The results of trading an EAP for a safe dam will result in uncounted deaths and immesurable property damage, as dam owners rely on their EAP instead of on their obligation to maintain their dam in a safe condition.

Don Sipher writes:

Arguments can be made about what the design standards should be for various dam hazard classifications, but it is not reasonable to argue that people and property downstream of an "unsafe dam" are protected by an emergency action plan. An emergency action plan is an important part of dam safety, but not a substitute for a well-maintained dam. There are many components to a safe dam, not just what size of storm runoff the emergency spillway can accomodate before the dam is overtopped. If dams are allowed to "continue to operate without correcting any deficiencies as long as funding is not available", essential repairs and maintenance will not be performed and unsafe conditions will be allowed to exist. Make the issue the design standards if you will, not true dam safety.

I wonder if the next time my vehicle inspection finds that I need new brakes an appropriate response would be that I have an emergency action plan in place in the event of a brake failure. I'll lean on the horn and yell at everyone to get out of the way.

P Shannon writes:

An emergency action plan serves as a last ditch effort to save lives from a dam failure. It is not meant to be a substitute for an engineered fix to an inadequate dam. This bill risks the lives of many people living downstream of dams.

Charles Pearre writes:

This bill should be defeat. The developers of Lake of the Woods (LOW) built a dam to help sale the development. Now the owners desire for all the people of Virginia to help them pay for their mistake. The Virginia dam safety regulations are reasonable and protect both the dam owners and the public living downstream of the dam. An Emergency Action Plan (EAP) provides only an outline of action when a failure is occurring. In this case because of the number of people downstream, the EAP should include a reverse 911 telephone system to help the people who would be flooded out save their lives.

As for 37" of rain in 24 hours, there are places in the United States that have had that much rain. If you have never seen the effect of large storms ask the people of Enid, OK, about the day it rained 18 inches in 3 hours in a normally dry section of the Great Plains. I saw the damage caused by the rain and also saw how structures designed to high standards prevented damage to many other structures.

Ask the individuals washed out in Franklin and other sections of Virginia about the damage caused by large storms.

I believe that Senator Houck has had the wool pulled over his eyes by a group of homeowners who do not want to take responsibility for the liability they have as dam owners. I would recommend that the good Senator withdraw the bill.

John Durrant writes:

Virginia Legislators:

This is an easy one, don't vote for Sen. Houck's bill.
I can only imagine the finger pointing that will occur following Virginia's first dam failue if this legislation becomes law. Not to mention the victims of the flood lining up for cash from the state to replace their homes and businesses. To the folks who asked for this legislation, fix your dam, no one wants to pay the bill for the destruction caused when it fails.
A fundamental role of government is to protect it's citizens. Enacting this bill would be an abdication of that responsibility.
Fixing the dams is the right thing to do - making this bill law is the wrong thing to do!

Editor’s Pick
Bruce A. Tschantz writes:

I hope that this bill doesn't become law. Dam safety experts; federal dam owners and regulators; the Executive Office of the President; and state dam safety officials have been consistent since the 1970's with the policy that the responsibility for dam safety rests with the owners. This bill says the responsibility for dam safety now shifts from the owner to state (Virginia) government and tax payers. This is setting a bad precedent for other states where the total price tag for fixing unsafe dams and upgrading deficient private sector dams is in the billions. The owner should either fix his own dam to bring it into compliance with state standards or it should be removed. Some states have the power to remove a private dam if the owner doesn't bring his dam into compliance and then bill the owner for the cost. A problem around the country has been unsafe or deficient dams at private lake-front developments where homeowners are suddenly hit with a high price tag to bring the dam into compliance with state regulatory standards. I hope Virginia legislators and its tax-paying citizens will see the light.

(Dam safety engineer and former Chief of Federal Dam Safety)

Sharon writes:

I have read all the comments posted on this web site and agree with both sides. My only comment is if the dam does not meet regulations it should have to be repaired, but if there are other dams in Virginia that do not meet these same regulations, whether there are privately owned or state owned they should also have to meet these same regulations. The people of this LOW should not be forced to follow Virginia regulations because they have the funds (or are being forced to come up with the funds) to fix this dam when the state cannot afford to fix the state dams and comply with their own regulations. Why are the state dams any less hazardous to residents in those areas?? Do what is necessary, but do it legally and fairly.

T. Clarke, P.E. writes:

Think of how much money taxpayers could save if we replaced Homeland Security with a good Emergency Action Plan (EAP) in the remote chance of a terrorist strike. Even good dams have failed before, just as terrorists have struck before. Houck: EAPs are not the answer to saving money.

Most reasonable folks would agree: You're an idiot if you build a potentially hazardous structure for your personal benefit, then expect the government to pay to keep it safe (unless you have lobbyists). I say, Drain it or fix it!

Steve Lohr writes:

Dam owners cannot afford to fix dams any more than homeowners can upgrade their homes to current building codes or private citizens can buy new cars with current safety standards each year. Dam owners should receive assistance if the State wants to enforce new standards on dam owners. Without relief we will lose many mill ponds built in colonial times just because new and unrealistic standards have been adpoted. The State can't afford to fix all highways to today's standards, why should we expect individual property owners to have unlimited funds. This is an unfunded mandate. Please support this bill of Senator Houck, and similar relief so we realistically manage risk rather than abuse the rights of property owners. Let's not let the state in effect take the property of private citizens.

Peter Spangenberg writes:

Living on a lake is a significant quality of life benefit. Waterfront property is prized and has increased value over non-waterfront. Lake associations are formed to preserve the lake and quality of life, and in most parts, to fund repairs to the dam that creates their waterfront community. For a lake front homeowners association to put their money into a lobbying effort for a bill like this instead of for the needed repairs to their unsafe dam is shameful. This legislation would create incentive for all dam owners to hold off repairing their dams, even if they had the funds available. Why spend your own money when the State (meaning the general public- who for the most part don't live on a lake) will pay to repair your private dam? Use of public monies to repair privately owned dams on private property is not good public policy. To pass this proposed legislation would be highly irresponsible on the part of state legislators. An EAP is no substitute for a safe dam.

PE writes:

This bill may look great to LOW homeowners, but saving a few bucks now will not make up for the consequences that will occur when the next dam breaks in VA because of lax regulation. Owners need to step up and face their responsibilities or get rid of their dams. Dams are among the highest risk structures that are built by man, with horrible consequences if they fail. Every year dams fail. Every year people die because of those failures. These requirements are no different from other states across the country, and are supported by years of research and practical experience.

Civil Engineering Experts writes:

I remember a storm that was never supposed to happen. I think it was called Kartrina. The storm wasn't even the PMP; the real problem was unmaintained and unregulated levees. Good luck with basing your infrastructure laws on the checkbook balance of people with Lake homes and political connections.

Daivd Blanchette writes:

The senator probable does not understand the safety issues with dams as well as he should. Writing a bill with such a sweeping mandate can only end up in a tragedy. I am sure there are other ways to handle this issue in a much safer way.

William Shenk writes:

Re SB276 and HB1320. On August 19-20, 1969, Hurricane Cammille dropped raifall of 12 to 20 inches, with a maximum of 39 inches in Nelson County. Most of the rainfall occurred in Virginia during a 3 - 5 hour period. More than 123 deaths occurred in Nelson County. Look it up. The PMP (probable maximum precipitation)is not arbitrary, it is based on many decades of extensive rainfall measurements and records. Camille happened rapidly, much like a dam break, and it happened at night. It is unrealistic to beleive that an emergency action plan would have saved many lives in Nelson County. An emergency action plan is no substitute for a safe dam! There is virtually no money in the so-called state Dam Safety Fund, and there will never be evough money to correct all of the unsafe dams. Under SB276, owners would be able to postpone maintenance and upgrades indefinitely. Already what little money there is has been diluted by HB1320, which now enables private owners (like LOW) to tap into public funds. It's unfortunate the LOW dam will require upgrading, but just because the owners don't understand the risks to their downstream neighbors, and don't want to pay to keep them safe, is no reason to gut the state's Dam Safety Regulations.

Suzie Takacs writes:

This legislation is long overdue. I welcome its passage, however, I am truly annoyed that Lake of the Woods has had to jump through hoops and spend huge amounts of money for eight years to finally achieve this result. It is criminal that a community should have be be subjected to the situation we have had in our community. Government and our elected officials have been remiss in not addressing and correcting this and saving the members of Lake of the Woods unnecesary expenses.

B Zand writes:

Dam safety standards are not arbitrarily chosen regulations. They are based on the lessons learned from dam failure case histories. These standards are realistic and meant to minimize the possibility of future disasters. As such, every dam should comply with the safety standards or be drained. It is very unreasonable to expect tax payers to pay and fix a privately owned dam in a private property.

Richard Lindenauer writes:

Which of the following disaster scenarios bears the greatest probability of loss of life --

1. failure of a well-constructed (in compliance with the Codes then in effect) and well-maintained earthen dam from overtopping as the result of a rain event of 37" of rain in 24 hours, which certainly would be preceeded by well publicized warnings from the National Weather Service;

OR

2. a spontaneous "sunny day" failure -- with little or no warning -- of the same earthen dam after having being disturbed by the major excavation needed to install larger capacity spillways to accommodate the statistically highly improbable theoretical maximum rainfall?

Should building codes require roofing structures capable of withstanding meteorite strikes? Makes about as much sense . . . .

GOOD FOR YOU, SENATOR HOUCK!!

Brenda writes:

We definitely don't need another dam failing to give civil engineering in the US a bad name. I'm glad that in San Francisco and Oakland we have well established seismic design in the building code. http://www.UrbanDesignCE.com