Thousands of crumbling Michigan dams pose dangers - WNEM TV 5

Thousands of crumbling Michigan dams pose dangers

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Source: City of Flint Source: City of Flint

Michigan has thousands of aging and under-maintained dams that could pose localized risks.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality tells the Detroit Free Press that all but six of the state's 88 potential high-hazard dams are approaching 50 years old, the average engineered life span for a dam.

The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan a D grade on the condition of its dams in 2009, saying more than 90 percent of the state's nearly 2,600 dams would reach or exceed their design life by 2020.

A new report card is in the works for this spring, but report card co-author Jeff Krusinga says the grade "won't be getting any better."

One dam of large concern is the Hamilton Dam, located in downtown Flint.

In 2004, the City of Flint lowered the water level, but the DEQ said the structure is in bad condition, with concrete being in bad shape and rebar sticking out.

Also, the DEQ said three out of the six gates that allow water out are in operation, and they are questionable.

The Flint River Watershed Coalition designed a plan that would include removing the dam and creating a more naturalized series of rocks rapids. That would allow for fish passage and improved recreational use.

In 2020 the dam will be 100-years-old.

"We are very hopeful that we never have to find out what does happen if the dam fails," said Rebecca Fedawa, executive director of the Watershed Coalition.

She said lowering the water level helps, but if the dam broke it could be devastating to downtown Flint.

"Lowering the water takes a lot of the risks away, but it is, if you go and look at it you can see the rebar. You can see the holes. It's definitely a structure that needs to be removed," Fedawa said.

Genesee County Parks and Recreation is heading up a waterfront improvement plan and it includes knocking down the Hamilton Dam and hopefully changing the perception of the Flint River.

The Watershed Coalition completed the pre-engineering and now the plan is in the county's hands. That plan includes naturalizing the stretch of river downstream of the dam.

"So that it's a series of drops and pools and it allows people to safely access the river and recreation opportunities will open up there as well as improved fish habitat," Fedawa said.

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