Hundreds of Texas dams at risk of failure

There are about 7,300 dams in Texas, but 60 percent of those are privately owned — which means they may not be getting inspections as often as you think.

Maria Orrostiera lives just downstream from one of those dams, and it needs to be repaired.

"This is actually something that is going to be a problem for us," she said. "It's water, and yeah, water doesn't seem to be so dangerous, but when it happens like the floods, it can take a life."

A study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality found 245 dams around the state are actually in really bad shape.

"Age has something to do with it," said Warren Samuelson, manager of TCEQ's Dam Safety Section.

Aging dams and severe drought are causing cracks, and there is concern that with all the rain and flooding happening now, it may be too much for smaller dams to handle.

"After an extended period of draught like this, there are desiccation cracks that open up and fill with water during an event like this and can cause shallow instabilities," explained Jason Vasquez, Dam Safety Program Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Corps does monitor the larger dams more closely, and works to repair them quickly. But the State of Texas is responsible for the smaller, private dams, and thousands go without being inspected.

In 2013, the state legislature decided to ease regulations on rural property owners, so more than 3,000 dams are exempt from inspection.

That doesn't sit well with homeowner Russell McMillian.

"Probably won't do anything until something bad actually happens until someone is hurt or something is damaged," he said.

Even if the state could inspect all the dams, there is no money for repairs. The state hasn't funded repairs in five years.

"There are not many avenues for assistance," Samuelson said.

PDF: Texas Dam Failures

And people like Maria Orrostiera, who live downstream from those dams, say they fear they are only one big storm away from a major catastrophe.


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