A Sanford couple is taking on the federal government in general and FERC (Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission) in particular after they lost their lakefront home in May when the Sanford Dam was overwhelmed, causing major flooding. This is interesting since at the root of the dam disaster is the failure of FERC. For years, FERC kept humouring the dam owner, and tolerated its violations. Why it did that, when it could have taken much stronger action almost two decades back is a mystery. Hopefully, this case will help get it resolved.
Dan Allen, 64, and Cathy Allen, 62, filed a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) claim on July 23, 2020, seeking $1.25 million in damages against the federal body that previously oversaw the operation of the Edenville Dam. The Edenville Dam failed on May 19, 2020. That caused the Sanford Dam to become overwhelmed and resulted in massive flooding in the area. The Federal Energy Resources Commission (FERC) issued dam owner Boyce Hydro a license in 2007, despite the dam already not being in compliance with federal regulations.
The claim alleges that because the FERC issued the Edenville Dam a license without first ensuring that it could afford to make the needed repairs, it is responsible for its failure: “The collapse of the Edenville Dam on May 19, 2020 was the direct result of FERC’s failure to comply with the legal mandate to grant a license to a financially sound and competent operator who would operate a High Hazard Dam safely. If FERC had followed its mandate, the disaster would not have occurred because Boyce would not have been granted a license,” the lawsuit filing reads. The FERC has 6 months to either grant or deny the claim. If it denies the claim or does nothing, the Allens can sue in federal district court.
Midland County officials have estimated that the total damage from the flooding is upwards of $209 million. More than 2,500 homes and businesses were damaged. About 150 were completely destroyed. Few properties had flooding insurance and many weren’t located in a flood plain.
This is essentially an update on the Michigan Dams disaster of May 2020, about which we wrote this article on May 25, 2020, soon after the disaster. Below we have compiled other updates related to this disaster.
OTHER UPDATES ON MICHIGAN DAM DISASTER OF MAY 2020:
1. May 26, 2020: Michigan Dam Safety Unit has three persons: Two engineers and their boss. “Midland’s flood disaster shines a spotlight on the aging, crumbling condition of dams in Michigan, and the limited financial ability — or will — and enforcement teeth to do anything about it… Michigan has more than 2,500 dams, ranging from small berms making tiny ponds at hunting cabins Up North to larger hydro-dams like the Edenville and Sanford dams… Some 1,061 of Michigan’s dams are regulated by the state — many because they are over 6 feet in height and hold back 5 acres of water or more; some because of circuit court orders establishing lake levels. Another 99 Michigan dams that generate hydropower are managed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission… “The key issue here is enforcement,” said Jim Hegarty, past president of the Michigan Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He authored a 2009 Report Card on Michigan’s dams, giving them an overall D grade. “We don’t have a problem with knowledge, necessarily; we don’t usually get surprised by this stuff. We need better enforcement on serious potential situations.”
The Report Card for Michigan’s dams was updated by ASCE for 2018. While the grade improved to a C-minus because of a number of poor dams being removed across Michigan since 2009, the report noted two-thirds of the state’s dams still were older than their typical 50-year design life. “In the next five years, about 80% of Michigan’s dams will be over 50 years old”.
“Michigan’s dam safety staffing is lower than the national average, said Mark Ogden, a technical consultant with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, a Lexington, Kentucky-based nonprofit representing state regulators, dam owners and engineers… Michigan also spends less than most other states on dam safety, according to the association. The average U.S. state spends about $695 per dam in safety regulation; Michigan spends about $374 per dam… About 70% of Michigan’s dams, more than 1,750 of them, are privately owned — “one owner, or a lake association, or a few homeowners,” he said.”
2. May 26 2020 “Why did the dam continue to operate even though it was out of compliance with flood prevention standards? … An exchange in 2011 between Boyce and Sanford lakeshore residents sheds light on why these safety risks were never resolved. The owner of Boyce, Lee Mueller requested the lakeshore property owners pay the $83,000 needed to repair the dam structure and to return the lake to its normal level. Lakeshore residents argued instead that Boyce pay for the repair since the company made revenues from the hydroelectric power generated from the dam. In response, Mueller threatened to drain the lake permanently if the property owners refused to pay up. Boyce was counting on Midland County to intervene since the county would lose millions in property tax revenue if residents were forced to move away after the lake was drained. This episode reveals the utter lack of concern about the imminent danger of flooding caused by Michigan’s aging dams. Only profits entered into the calculations of Boyce and the local county officials… what happened to the Edenville dam after September 2018 when Boyce’s license was revoked by the FERC? Why was nothing done to repair and maintain the dam which would have prevented last week’s catastrophe from happening? … Submitted on the same day was another similar but lengthier letter from heads of local lake associations, including David Kepler, president of the Sanford Lake Preservation Association. Kepler was a major figure at Dow Chemical for 40 years, where he was the Executive Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Information Officer, and previously was part of the US National Infrastructure Advisory Council on infrastructure and homeland security under President George W. Bush… What’s behind the collapse of the Edenville dam and the damage of thousands of homes is the decades-long bipartisan neglect of the safety issues regarding dams on both the state and federal levels…. According to a study published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, on average, each state inspector is responsible for about 200 dams. In Oklahoma and Iowa, there were only three inspectors for their 4621 and 3911 dams respectively. There is also a nationwide lack of emergency responses to the high hazard dams. Alabama does not have a dam safety program, while no emergency action plans exist for 20 percent of the high hazard dams…. From the same study, the total estimated cost to repair all the high hazard dams is about $45 billion, and about $71 billion to repair all dams in the country—only a minor fraction of the trillions of dollars used on military expenses and the bailout of Wall Street during the pandemic. The collapse of the Edenville dam is not a natural disaster, but a man-made one, a result of decades of attacks on critical infrastructure.”
3. At least three different proposed class action lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts on behalf of residents and business that are claiming losses that resulted from the dam failure.
4. In a letter addressed to Lee Mueller, Boyce Hydro Power LLC managing member, on May 20, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ordered Boyce Hydro to fully lower the reservoirs behind Sanford Dam, Smallwood Dam and Secord Dam — all dams under FERC jurisdiction — in a safe manner as flows recede. Boyce Hydro is also being directed to perform a safety inspection of the dams within three days after the flows recede. After the completion of the inspections, Boyce Hydro must provide a copy of the reports to FERC within three days, but must also provide a verbal summary of findings to the Chicago Regional Engineer immediately upon completion. “Boyce must also maintain fully lowered reservoirs and develop an interim plan to safely pass flows until a safe reservoir elevation can be established and implemented,” the letter states. The letter also directed Boyce Hydro to immediately begin formation of a fully-independent forensic investigation team to focus on the three dams. The team must consist of dam safety experts “well versed” in the following disciplines: hydraulics and hydrology; geotechnical engineering; structural engineering; reservoir operations; emergency action planning; organizational/human factors. The team members must not have worked on any of the Boyce Hydro Projects in the past.
In a press release on Tuesday (May 26), the Four Lakes Task Force (FLTF) announced the its acquisition of the lake-system and its dams will not take place under the terms that were negotiated with Boyce Hydro this past winter. In December 2019, Four Lakes Task Force signed a $9.4 million purchase agreement to acquire Wixom, Sanford, Secord and Smallwood lakes, along with their dams from Boyce Trusts. The sale was expected to close in January 2022.
5. Speaking in Midland on Wednesday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, said she has sent a letter to EGLE directing the department to investigate what caused the Edenville and Sanford dams to fail. Fielding a question from a reporter about whether the flooding could have been avoided, and if it was a mistake to tell the dam owners to raise the water level, Whitmer said it is important that EGLE’s investigation be done. [It has detailed information about the suit filed by state against unauthorised lowering of reservoir level in 2018 and 2019 winters.}
6. May 27, 2020 Bruce Feinberg has noted the similarity with the failure of the Kelly Barnes Dam on 6 November 1977 at Toccoa in Georgia, USA. This was another earthen dam that breached during heavy rainfall, killing 39 people. The USGS investigated this failure, and the report is online. The report makes shocking reading – the dam was poorly documented and in a very poor state of repair at the time of failure. Photographs from 1973 show that a slope failure in the face of the dam had already occurred. The USGS report hypothesises that the breach may have been caused by a further slope failure in the downstream face of the dam:
[Slope failure] appears to be a distinct possibility, particularly on the downstream slope when the previous slope failure is considered along with the possibility of the development of tension cracks upslope of the previous failure together with a computed factor of safety that is marginal. The long period of rain would have saturated tension cracks, if they existed, and the entire downstream slope would have become essentially saturated and even more susceptible to failure. A local downstream slope failure similar to that observed in 1973 could have caused limited breaching allowing localized overtopping. This concept would corroborate the hydraulic computations.
This proposed mechanism of failure is indeed similar to that of the Edenville Dam.
7. May 29, 2020 In a letter from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dated Thursday, an official wrote that “initial observations” found “erosion of the downstream slopes” at Secord Dam, which is upstream from two dams that were breached, causing widespread damage and prompting the evacuation of more than 10,000 residents. John Zygaj, a FERC regional engineer, mentioned the Secord’s condition in his letter while directing Boyce Hydro’s Lee Mueller to file an incident report by June 16. z
– The Smallwood Dam was damaged even though Boyce Hydro officials indicated to the FERC it had no “consequential” harm, according to the federal agency that oversees the dam. On May 20, the FERC ordered Mueller, who is based in Las Vegas, do an inspection of the Sanford, Smallwood and Secord dams three days after the water receded. It’s not clear the status of that inspection.
8. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer earlier this week directed the state of Michigan to investigate what caused two Midland County dams to fail and to review dam safety throughout the state. Now, some legislators are calling for an independent investigation into the matter. State Rep. Roger Hauck, a Republican from Union Township near Mount Pleasant, on Friday, May 29, joined some of his colleagues in calling on Whitmer to hire an independent investigator to look into the failed dams, rather than the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). “For the water crisis in Flint, independent investigators were hired to examine the catastrophe, as we did not trust the state Department of Environmental Quality to investigate its own mismanagement of the crisis,” Hauck said in a statement. “The disaster involving the Edenville and Sanford dams warrants the same method — the people of Midland County and the surrounding area deserve a fair investigation.”
9. Safety experts who we spoke to say the state should have moved faster to protect the public against a dam with a 25-year history of noncompliance and safety warnings. (How weak regulations failed to prevent catastrophe at notorious Midland dam) “When there’s public safety at stake, you don’t have conversations. You actually do something about it,” said Hiba Baroud, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University who specializes in risk analysis of infrastructure.
– “Factor in wave run up/set up, and the deficiency increases significantly,” Trumble wrote. “No big surprise there, but I wanted to have the calcs to support that assumption before EGLE makes a final determination on hydraulic adequacy of the dam.”
That finding, coupled with years of federal reports, should have compelled the state regulators to take temporary action to protect public safety until a permanent solution could be reached, said Baroud. She said operating the dam at a lower lake level could “allow for these extreme [rain] situations to occur without resulting in a disaster.”
“You have to prioritize public safety,” Baroud said. “You have to take action, not wait, or have conversations about it. Just take action.”
In a letter sent Thursday to Boyce Hydro a regional engineer with FERC noted that “initial observations noted significant flood erosion damage of Smallwood Dam and some erosion of the downstream slopes of Secord Dam.”
FERC officials have directed Boyce to submit an incident report by June 16 detailing recent operating conditions at the Secord, Smallwood and Sanford dams.
10. June 1, 2020 A congressional committee has asked the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy for additional information on the Edenville Dam, which broke May 19, flooding the Midland area and forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 people.
The U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked in a Friday letter for more details about what actions Michigan took or didn’t take to secure the Edenville Dam after jurisdiction was shifted to the state from the federal government in 2018. It asks about the state’s evaluation of the dam in the past two years and any regulatory or legal action taken in recent months against the dam owner Boyce Hydro. Federal lawmakers sent a similar letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to discern its actions surrounding the dam prior to 2018.
Among the questions asked of Clark in the letter are ones pertaining to state communication with federal authorities about the dam; the state’s perceived obligations in relation to the dam; any legal and regulatory efforts the state took since 2018; and what action was taken after the state found in January that the dam didn’t meet flood capacity standards.
11. (This post is a highly abridged version of a more in-depth report on the events that led to the failure of the Edenville Dam. Watch the Mackinac Center website for more details on this soon-to-be-published report.) The Edenville Dam has survived heavier rains in the past. But on May 19, rising water levels in the Tittabawassee River and Wixom Lake scoured out a section of the dam, which then washed downriver and over the Sanford Dam. Boyce Hydro claims it acted quickly on May 15, ahead of the storm, to once again begin drawing down lake levels. But clearly, it was unable to draw water levels down sufficiently to hold the flood waters back. [Does this article represent the interests of the Boyce Hydro?]
12. Sanford Lake residents now face yet another threat: erosion. On June 4 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the owner of the dams to stabilize the shorelines to prevent erosion that could endanger homes. FERC told Boyce to hire engineers to study erosion along Sanford Lake that had created a “steep bank.” FERC said Boyce must pay for stabilizing the shoreline near “any residences or structures that are in jeopardy of additional damage.” FERC also said the loss of the lake, replaced with a far-faster moving river, could lead to even more erosion, especially if there is more rain.
13. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Monday she’s seeking a federal major disaster declaration from President Donald Trump to help recoup some $200 million in damages to more than 2,500 buildings from floods last month caused when two dams failed. only 8 percent of damaged homes had flood insurance, 150 homes were destroyed, 790 had major damage and public property such as schools and government buildings had $34 million in damages.
14. June 9, 2020 Saying the owner and operator of the failed Edenville Dam “repeatedly put its own profits over the safety of the public,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on Tuesday announced a new state lawsuit against Boyce Hydro LLC, seeking likely millions of dollars in damages and response and recovery expenses related to last month’s flooding in Midland County.
– The state’s new lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Ingham County Circuit Court, urges the court to order Boyce Hydro to take immediate steps to shore up the remaining portions of the Edenville Dam on the Tobacco River side of the structure. The dam’s breach has changed the flows of the Tobacco and put strain on the remaining dam portion still holding back a significant amount of water, state officials contend. “Cracks had begun to form on the downstream slope west of the Tobacco spillway and, based on observations from (Boyce’s) chief operator Greg Uhl, the cracks were very deep and approximately 60 feet wide,” the state’s lawsuit complaint states.
– EGLE issued an emergency inspection order May 22, requiring Boyce to secure an engineer to perform an immediate evaluation of the Tobacco side of the dam and report back to the state within two days. The order also required Boyce to have an engineer perform a full inspection of the remaining portions of the entire dam and make recommendations for repairing any deficiencies “that pose a risk of safety to the remaining dam structure.” The lawsuit states Mueller told EGLE officials June 2 that an inspection of the Tobacco side of the Edenville dam would begin “during the week of June 8,” and that a report would be forwarded to EGLE “at some point in the future.” On June 5, Mueller told EGLE Boyce was “monitoring the cracks on the Tobacco side of the dam.” State officials state in their lawsuit complaint.”If the Tobacco side of the Edenville Dam fails, there could be additional, catastrophic impacts to the people, property and natural resources downstream from the dam in addition to the complete loss of the M-30 (highway) crossing.” The state’s lawsuit also seeks to have Boyce repair damages to the state’s natural resources, clean up discharges of debris and hazardous materials caused by the dam’s failures, and pay civil fines and damages related to the disaster.
15. June 10, 2020 For the first time since the Edenville Dam broke two and a half weeks ago, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy spoke with legislators on what went wrong to lead to the failure and what problems hang on the horizon. It was the first of many scheduled hearings where EGLE explained why the Edenville Dam was rated poorly and yet nothing had been done to avoid catastrophe before it hit. Much of it came down to a lack of resources and man power but many questions still went unanswered during the hearing.
Senate, EGLE Discuss Edenville Dam Failure And Future Preparation
16. June 15, 2020 A federal judge on June 15, 2020 instructed the owners of the failed Edenville Dam to perform an immediate inspection of the structure to determine if it poses a substantial risk to folks downstream of the remaining Tobacco River segment. U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney ordered the immediate inspection after the state alleged the dam company was “slow-walking” the inspection to the detriment of residents who could be harmed by a second breach in the dam.
17. June 18, 2020 Michigan and federal regulators have signed off on six independent experts who will investigate why mid-Michigan’s Edenville and Sanford dams failed in mid-May. The team, which held its first virtual meeting June 17, 2020, will be paid and contracted by dam owner Boyce Hydro, but were screened and approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The investigation is expected to take 18 months to complete, but the group could issue preliminary reports if there are discoveries that may help the state to mitigate potential failures at other dams, the state environmental department said in a Thursday (June 18) statement.
-John W. France, president of JWF Consulting and expert in engineering consulting and design, will lead the team. Other members include dam engineering expert Irfan A. Alvi, hydromechanics expert Henry T. Falvey, hydraulics structure engineer Steve Higinbotham, water resources expert Arthur C. Miller and geotechnical engineer Jennifer Williams.
18. June 19 2020 A statement from republican party representative from Michigan says that the investigation team is not acceptable as it is not independent team, it has been chosen by the dam owner and also state govt, both of which are charged in cases filed in the court.
19. June 29 2020 Rising water levels in Wixom Lake washed away a 900-foot section of the earthen embankment, and water flowed downriver, swelling Sanford Lake and washing over Sanford Dam.
20. July 5, 2020 Michigan and federal officials have prioritized dam removal over dam repairs in their funding decisions, experts say, a trend a Republican state lawmaker argues is an “appalling” practice that values fishing concerns over public safety. Nearly 80% of Michigan’s $16.95 million in dam management grants awarded since 2012 have gone to dam removal projects, state officials testified in mid-June. Funding for dam removal largely is prioritized over dam repair because that’s the way the statutory language was written for the state’s available grant programs, said Jessica Mistak, habitat management unit supervisor for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Division.
– Less than a year before the Edinville dam broke, the state Department of Natural Resources rejected a $1.6 million grant request for the dam’s repair. The proposal was turned down in part because the application came from new prospective owners, the Four Lakes Task Force, rather than the dam owners themselves and because the dam didn’t meet grant priorities.
– Across the nation, as environmental awareness grew and liability issues with dams came to the forefront, removal became a more viable option than repairs in the eyes of regulators and owners alike, said Mark Ogden, a former Ohio dam safety official who is now a technical specialist with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. “I do think that more regulatory agencies over the years have presented that option to the dam owners than years ago when dam building was more of the norm,” he said.
21. Earlier (May 20, 2018) report shows that Michigan is the most freshwater rich state of US, it sits on a fifth of the World’s freshwater source (Great Lakes), but charges giant multinationals like Nestle a pittance for its use of water.
– Public outrage is still simmering, partly because the private company pays relatively little in exchange for its ability to profit off what many Michiganders see as a public resource. Michigan should either collect taxes on companies like Nestle that use water or significantly raise the fees water bottlers must pay.
– Nestle pays Michigan a pittance in exchange for the 4.8 million bottles of water a day the multinational company bottles at its Ice Mountain factory there: a US$200 annual permitting fee for each of their groundwater wells. Michigan does not tax bottled water production. State Rep. Peter Lucido, a Republican, has introduced a bill that would charge Nestle and its competitors like Absopure, Coca-Cola and Pepsi a 5-cents-per-gallon tax on the water they harvest. Lucido estimates that Nestle would have to pay $20 million in taxes if his legislation were to become law. The lawmaker is calling for the state to spend this new revenue on water infrastructure, a long-neglected spending priority, as the Flint water crisis illustrates.
22. July 9 2020 President Donald Trump approved Thursday (July 9 2020) a major disaster declaration request by the state of Michigan that opens federal individual and public aid following May flooding in five mid-Michigan counties. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer requested a major disaster declaration from Trump for $245 million in damage widespread flooding caused in five Michigan counties. The damage done in Midland, Gladwin, Arenac, Iosco and Saginaw counties amounted to roughly $190 million in losses for residents and $55 million in damage to public infrastructure, according to the 50-page request Whitmer sent to the Trump administration in mid-June.
– Approval provides more federal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development for individuals and companies seeking relief because of flood damage. “At the request of Congressman Moolenaar, I have approved a major Disaster Declaration to provide more than $43 million in Federal Funds to help the people of the GREAT State of Michigan recover from the recent dam break flooding,” Trump tweeted Thursday evening. “I will always stand with Michigan!
23. July 21, 2020 Throughout June 2020, a number of legislative proposals poised to impact hydropower resources have been introduced in Congress. On Monday, June 22, Democratic members of the House of Representatives released H.R. 2, the Moving Forward Act, which aims to encourage investment in infrastructure and includes several provisions on hydropower and dam safety. On Monday June 29, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) introduced the Hydropower Clean Energy Future Act which includes updates to the licensing process for non-federal hydroelectric projects and promotes innovation of new generation technologies that would protect the environment and natural resources while providing additional reliability services to the nation’s electric grid. Finally, on June 30, Democratic members of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a Climate Crisis Action Plan, which includes provisions on hydropower and marine energy facilities.
1. Aug 4, 2020 The companies in charge of Midland-area dams that failed in May have filed for bankruptcy in a Michigan federal court. Boyce Hydro LLC and Boyce Hydro Power LLC owned and operated the Edenville and Sanford dams, which failed May 19. The companies are two of several entities owned by Lee Mueller, who filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 31 in federal court in Bay City.
– “Boyce Hydro has been a negligent owner and manager for years, and now, rather than dealing with the tragic circumstances that resulted from its negligence and paying the cost to fix those problems, the company is declaring bankruptcy and potentially leaving Michigan taxpayers holding the bag,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in an email to MLive.
2. Four Lakes Task Force wants to use eminent domain to gain ownership of four Midland-area dams — including the Edenville and Sanford dams that failed in the May 19 storms, sending water raging down the Tittabawassee River and flooding homes and businesses. It hopes to restore the infrastructure and shoreline of Wixom and Sanford lakes and prevent homes from being lost to the eroding edges of what were once the lakes. It has filed requests in the courts to obtain the dams. Under eminent domain, the owners, Boyce Hydro and and Boyce Hydro Power, could be ordered to sell the properties to the task force as the designated authority representing the counties, task force spokesperson Stacey Trapani said.
– Plants are now rising from the craters that were once the two lakes.
– But the biggest issue by far is erosion, Rothman said. With the exposed ground drying out, the shoreline, now clifflike, is becoming increasingly unstable, crumbling in closer and closer to what were once lakefront homes.
– Four Lakes Task Force estimates it will cost more than $30 million to stop the erosion, remove the debris left by the flooding and stabilize all four dams. The goal is do all this in two years before further damage can be done to the 6,000 homes on the lakes valued at about $800 million, Trapani said. Rothman said that as the task force looks at plans to rebuild the two broken dams and strengthen the other two, safety will be the priority. He said they will meet contemporary requirements for dam construction and spillway capacity. “Our No. 1 principle for doing work to bring the lakes back is to make sure that when we rebuild the dams, this can’t happen again,” Rothman said.
Same story here with some great photos: https://amp.freep.com/amp/3326546001
3. Aug 10, 2020 The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) says it will pay to assess the structural integrity of the remains of a collapsed dam because the bankrupt owner has failed to do so. The state, which is fighting with Edenville Dam owner Lee Mueller in federal court, is worried that parts of the earthen dam that failed and unleashed a catastrophe almost three months ago remain unstable and pose additional risk to downstream residents still recovering from floodwaters.
– Mueller failed to do it, despite a June 15 federal court order to have engineers assess the Tobacco River side of the dam. The state sought to have the assessment finished by July 24 through a temporary restraining order. The engineering assessment is separate from a third-party investigation ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission into causes of the collapse in Edenville and another Boyce dam downstream at the southern reach of Sanford Lake.
4. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy said Tuesday that an independent forensic investigation team is now able to move forward with its examination of the May 19 failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams and operations of Smallwood and Secord dams near Midland. The team was hired under contract with FERC after the owner of the dams, Boyce Hydro, failed to contract with the investigators by July 13 as ordered by FERC. FERC and Michigan EGLE determined that the people of Michigan and public safety interests deserve expeditious action to gather a full and accurate accounting of what occurred.
– The forensic team will operate completely independently of FERC and EGLE to conduct the investigation and prepare one report to cover all four dams, which are on the same river system. The team includes: John France, PE (team chair, Geotechnical and Emergency Action Planning); Irfan Alvi, PE (Human Factors and Structural); Jennifer Williams, PE (Geotechnical); Steve Higinbotham, PE (Hydraulic Structures); and Arthur Miller, PhD, PE (Hydraulics and Hydrology, Reservoir Operations).
5. Sept 1 2020 The ‘500 year flood’ that devastated the Midland area came after just 7 inches of rain.
May 15, 2020: Boyce Hydro says it began lowering the water levels in the impoundments behind the Secord, Smallwood, Edenville and Sanford dams in anticipation of incoming major storms.
May 17, 2020: Storms bring heavy rainfall across the lower peninsula. The heaviest rain fell in the northeast and north-central part of Lower Michigan. Gladwin, a city about 25 miles north of Edenville saw 4.13 inches of rainfall by May 19.
12:22 a.m. May 19, 2020: Midland County Central Dispatch issues an alert telling residents in Edenvile Township to leave their homes due to an “imminent dam failure” at the Edenville Dam. Those that live along Sanford Lake and Wixom Lake were told to vacate their homes and go to shelters.
5:00 a.m. May 19, 2020: The Tittabawasse River reaches 26.5 feet high. Anything above 24 feet is considered flooding.
6:50 a.m. May 19, 2020: Midland County Emergency Management determines the Edenville and Sanford dams are structurally sound but that the dams can not control or contain the water flowing through spill gates anymore.
Aprox 5:00 p.m. May 19, 2020: Flood alert goes out across Midland area.
Before dark May 19, 2020: Edenville Dam fails causing flash flood conditions. Emergency text goes out: “MIDLAND CITY RESIDENTS WEST OF EASTMAN SOUTH OF US-10 NEED TO EVACUATE DUE TO DAM COLLAPSE.” The initial dam breach causes the Sanford Dam to flow over and the Tittabawassee River to overflow its 24-foot flood stage.
Aprox. 8:00 p.m. May 19, 2020: The M-30 bridge in Wixom Lake collapses while residents begin arriving at Midland High School after being evacuated from their homes.
May 19, 2020: Governor Gretchen Whitmer declares a state of emergency for the city of Midland and Midland County due to severe flooding.
Aprox. 4:00 a.m. May 20, 2020: National Guard units from Bay City, Saginaw, Port Huron, and other areas comprising about 130 soldiers, arrive in affected areas and begin missions.
6:35 a.m. May 20, 2020: The Poseyville dike breaks and Midland County Central Dispatch sends out an alert urging residents on Ashby between Poseyville and Patterson roads to evacuate.
7:00 a.m. May 20, 2020: National Weather Service says the flood stage is over 34 feet and rising. [Further timeline is given, but that is not given here since that is more or less covered by SANDRP blogs.] https://www.youtube.com/embed/SF0c1eyuiJshttps://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
6. Sept 4 2020 What caused the dam failures in Midland that destroyed 150 homes and altered the natural landscape will likely not become completely clear for more than a year, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) said in a report released on Tuesday, Sept 1, 2020. The report provides an update on the ongoing investigation into the Edenville Dam, plans to restore the Tobacco River’s flow and the lack of coordination with the dams’ owner Boyce Hydro. While awaiting the conclusion of the independent investigation, EGLE provided the first of a series of reports requested by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that will provide information about how the dam failures came to be and reviewing dam safety policies in Michigan.
7. Sept 8 2020 A task force has been put together to ensure dams in Michigan will be safe moving forward. “This is in response to the historic rain event that led to the dam failure and the catastrophic 500-year flood that we saw in Mid-Michigan,” said Liesl Clark, director Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. On Sept 8, 2020 at its first virtual meeting, EGLE announced the 19 members of the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force, which will provide recommendations on policy, budget, legislative and enforcement reforms to prevent future dam failures across the state.
– “The societal problem we’re wrestling with here is that you can’t just walk away from these dams,” said John Broschak, vice president of generation operations and compression for Consumers Energy, a member of the task force. “You can’t just throw your hands up and say well I don’t have the financial resources, I don’t care anymore so I’m going to leave my responsibility,” he said. “Rivers are relentless, they never stop.”
– The task force will meet again at 10 a.m. on Oct. 1 in a virtual format. All the information about the meeting and how to watch will be posted on the task force’s website.
8. Sept 10 2020. Property owners around the four Midland-area dams affected by a May flood after two failed could pay as much as $92,940 individually to fix the dams and restore the manmade lakes that have been drained for four months. The annual assessments estimated for property owners along Secord, Smallwood, Edenville and Sanford dams range between $237 and $3,098 over 30-40 years, with the cost varying depending on where a home is located, the duration of the loan and the final costs of repairs.
– Consultants hired by Four Lakes Task Force estimate the total cost of repairs to the Secord, Smallwood, Edenville and Sanford dams will come in at about $338 million. The $338 million would restore the dams to working, safe conditions and refill the lakes to court-ordered levels. That cost includes an estimated $24 million for Secord Dam, $14 million for the Smallwood Dam, $208 million for the Edenville Dam and Wixom Lake area, and $92 million for the Sanford Dam.
9. Sept 14, 2020 The team investigating the failures of two mid-Michigan dams is collecting all the information it can get. That includes from any business and resident with information to share about the state’s dams.
– An independent forensic investigation team, started by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to figure out what caused the catastrophic failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams in Midland, started their work this month. The team will also look into the operations of the nearby Smallwood and Secord dams.
– Midland County officials have estimated that the flooding caused upwards of $209 million in damage. 10,000 residents were forced to evacuate the region, and five impacted counties, Midland, Saginaw, Gladwin, Arenac and Iosco, estimated that more than 3,700 properties were damaged, many were without flood insurance.
10. Sept 17 2020 The state is moving forward with needed repairs after the devastating failure of the Edenville Dam. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has issued an emergency work order to Edenville Dam owner Boyce Hydro. The order is to partially breach the Edenville Dam’s Tobacco River spillway. This is intended to improve the stability of the Tobacco River portion of the Edenville Dam. While the order requires Boyce Hydro to do the work, the state has already said it doesn’t anticipate the serially delinquent company to make the repairs. “They’ve not had one deadline or met one milestone that we’ve asked,” Clark said during a Sept. 1 press conference announcing the work plans and that an emergency order was likely. If Boyce Hydro does not make the repairs itself, the state will move forward without the company and then seek to recoup the costs later, which could prove difficult. The emergency work order requires Boyce Hydro to immediately hire a contractor to do the work and send EGLE proof of a contract by Sept. 21. The company also has to complete applications for permits by Sept. 25, and start construction on the project by Oct. 19.
11. Oct 1 2020 Michigan needs to spend more money, hire more people, and up its enforcement of dam violations in order to protect the environment and public safety, a new report recommends. The report was presented to the Michigan Dam Safety Task Force on Thursday (Oct 1, 2020). The report, put together by the Association of State Dam Officials, offers 19 recommendations for how the state can improve its Dam Safety Program. “The program is significantly understaffed to perform the mission, as even dictated by the legislation rules, and certainly best practice in the industry,” he said.
– Bingham said the state needs to add at least 9 more people in the program, including three senior dam safety engineers and three junior dam safety engineers to oversee the roughly 1,060 state-regulated dams. The Fiscal Year 2021 state budget, signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday, includes money to hire two more dam safety engineers, which would bring the total to five. The report also recommends a “state fund for the repair, replacement, or removal of unsafe or failing dams.”
– While the report emphasized the need for new laws from the state Legislature and governor, it also found that the small team of safety inspectors are not enforcing the laws and regulations that they do have. “We found that rigorous enforcement is seldom used for dam safety violations,” Bingham said. “There seems to be a minimal enforcement culture that’s grown in Michigan.” The entire report is posted to the state’s Edenville Dam Failure webpage.
12. Nov 11 2020 On Nov 12, 2020, the state of Michigan is hosting a virtual town hall, to update residents about upcoming work on the Edenville Dam. Construction is expected to start this fall, and wrap up in time for the spring thaw. Work includes modifying the Tobacco River spillway, stabilizing the dam, and returning the Tobacco River to its pre-failure route. The meeting will explain the process in detail. The town hall starts at 6 p.m., and anyone can attend. Registration is required, and you can sign up on the E.G.L.E website.
13. Nov 12, 2020: Construction is expected to start on the Edenville Dam as early as on Nov 19, 2020. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy says unless these repairs are made the dam will still be at risk of failing again in the spring.
14. A heavily damaged bridge over the Tittabawassee River downstream from the Edenville Dam reopened Thursday after a six-month repair costing $1.2 million, paid by the federal govt under emergency funding.
15. Nov 19 2020 The task force has now reached a settlement in connection with condemnation proceedings with the dam’s owner, Boyce Hydro. The settlement agreement was filed with the courts last week. Under the settlement agreement, Four Lakes would take over ownership of the Boyce properties as part of a more than $1.5 million deal.
• $270,000 to Boyce Michigan
• $152,000 to local suppliers that had liens on Boyce properties
• The remaining $1,154,000 will be up to the bankruptcy court to sort out between Byline Bank, lawyers and the bankruptcy trustee
– Boyce attorney Lawrence Kogan describes the settlement as “a positive development before ownership of the dams can be transferred.” Four Lakes Task Force officials expect the transfer could happen as soon as next month. There is a federal bankruptcy court hearing scheduled on the settlement agreement for November 30. Meanwhile, the state is about to start work to stabilize part of the Edenville Dam and reroute the Tobacco River away from the break in the dam.
16. The announcement comes as the community reaches a milestone. It’s been six months since an historic flood swept through parts of Mid Michigan following the failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams, causing millions of dollars in damage in Midland and Gladwin counties. A lot has happened since that day. The debris by the dam has been removed, businesses are reopening and homes are being rebuilt. It’s a community on the slow road to recovery.
17. Progress in Photos.
18. Nov 30 2020 A state task force is reviewing recommendations to strengthen regulations for Michigan’s dams in the wake of the May failure of two “grossly underfunded” Midland-area dams that led to catastrophic damage. The Michigan Dam Task Force met virtually Monday to debate the proposals that would address questions of financial responsibility and licensing among dam owners and establish an emergency fund for hazards and a statewide notification and monitoring system.
– Following the dam failures on May 19, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy asked the Association of State Dam Safety Officials to perform a thorough evaluation of the state’s dam program. The association returned with a 270-page report and 19 recommendations, which the Dam Task Force is reviewing and refining before it heads to the governor in February.
– Michigan has 2,523 dams. Of those, 1,153 are regulated by either state (1,059) or federal (92) agencies. Some 1,370 smaller dams are not regulated. Of regulated dams, 803 are privately owned and 350 are publicly owned.
– The dam safety association’s report outlined recommendations that would have to be made by the Legislature. It said the state’s dam safety program “lacks the authority to require owners to obtain a permit to operate and maintain dams in a safe condition, nor to annually report on maintenance, operation and engineering investigations.” Also, there are “no requirements for owners to maintain key records, periodic exercising of emergency action plans or for owners of high hazard dams to provide proof of financial responsibility or security for the continued safe operation and maintenance of their dam.” Now, the state task force is reviewing what qualifications and capabilities should be established for dam owners and whether current owners should be grandfathered in.
19. Dec 7 2020 Four mid-Michigan hydroelectric dams, including two that unleashed historic flooding this spring, will be transferred to a local task force with the approval of a federal judge presiding over the beleaguered dam owner’s bankruptcy case. Judge Daniel Opperman in Bay City will allow the Four Lakes Task Force to acquire the Edenville, Sanford, Smallwood and Secord dams on the Tobacco and Tittabawassee rivers through condemnation, the task force announced on Dec. 7, 2020. Boyce Hydro is to be paid Rs 1.5 Billion. The Task Force plans to tax the river front properties for several years to recover the cost. The repair of the four dams would need USD 338 million, 60% for the Edinville dam alone, which the state is paying for.
20. Dec 11 2020 U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar introduced legislation on Thursday that makes reforms and improvements to dam and hydropower safety operations and oversight.
– Moolenaar, a Midland Republican, was joined by Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, and together, they pushed for the provisions after the breach of the Edenville Dam and Sanford Dam failures in Michigan caused extensive damage throughout the region’s downstream communities, destroying homes, businesses, roads, and bridges.
– The bill, titled the “National Dam and Hydropower Safety Improvements Act of 2020,” would enhance dam and hydropower safety operation requirements nationwide and aims to modernize existing infrastructure through the development of new best practices and improved communications between FERC and states. The legislation was written in response mid-Michigan dam failures and would also require a FERC to provide a briefing and report to Congress on the tragic incident.
21. Dec 13 2020 Crews have started emergency construction work on a portion of a central Michigan dam that collapsed last spring. Excavation work will be done below the Edenville Dam. Work also is being done inside the Tobacco River spillway in Gladwin and Midland counties to prepare it for being lowered by 21 feet.
22. Jan 21 2021 The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued an order proposing a $15 million civil penalty in response to the failure of a licensee to respond to FERC dam safety orders in the wake of the failure of the Edenville dam and downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) in Michigan in May 2020 (see June 1, 2020 edition of the WER). The December 9, 2020 Order to Show Cause and Notice of Proposed Penalty followed months of FERC orders and directives to the licensee related to the catastrophic failure of the two dams, which resulted in the evacuation of 10,000 people, an estimated $190 million in economic damages to local residents, and $55 million in response costs.
The licensee submitted a response to FERC’s order to show cause on January 8, 2021, claiming that the condemnation of the project properties by the counties constructively terminated the project license, thus removing the licensee from FERC jurisdiction. The licensee further asserted that imposing a civil penalty would serve no public purpose and would only harm innocent creditors, most of whom are flooding victims. FERC’s order is available here.
22. Feb 27 2021 Michigan‘s dam safety task force has taken a long hard look at its dam infrastructure and come up with a list of 86 recommendations that would improve the state’s failing barriers. They’re not going to be cheap recommendations to make, however. And many will require the rewriting of laws that regulate ownership and maintenance in Michigan.
– “These decades-old dams have deteriorated due to age, erosion, poor maintenance, flood damage, or antiquated design, and they are particularly vulnerable during high-water flow events,” read a report released by the MI Dam Safety Task Force. The underinvestment – which amounts to a gap in funding of $225 million and doesn’t include the cost to remove dams – is matched by understaffing. The Dam Safety Program, which regulates over 1,000 dams in Michigan, only has one supervisor and three engineers. Another 92 dams are regulated under a federal agency. That means for each staff member in the DSP, they oversee 342 dams. there’s one more that people should be aware of: $420 million. That’s the estimated investment over the next 20 years Michigan will need to make to ensure its dams don’t fail again.
– “Continuing the current path of underinvestment is a violation of the public trust, a path that leads to tragic losses of property and life and is ultimately more expensive to Michiganders,” read the report. The task force also said reevaluating how the state and dam owners assess the risk each structure would better inform how much of a threat each poses to people and property. For high and significant hazard dam, independent reviews would be authorized. For Full Task Force Report dated Feb 25, 2021, see: https://www.michigan.gov/documents/egle/2021-02-25-MI-Dam-Safety-Task-Force-Report-to-Governor-Whitmer_717510_7.pdf
23. Feb 26, 2021 Detailed backgrounder in the context of the Task Force report: https://waterpowermagazine.com/features/featuremichigan-dam-failures-prompt-re-assessment-of-safety-8552738/
24. March 1, 2021 On behalf of plaintiffs Dan and Cathy Allen of Sanford, Pitt Law has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in relation to the Edenville Dam failure in May that led to the damage or destruction of thousands of homes and businesses and the draining of Wixom and Sanford lakes, among others. The suit alleges that for decades, FERC entrusted the license to operate the Edenville Dam to a private owner, Boyce Hydro, that FERC knew or should have known was unwilling or incapable of operating the dam safely. The suit also alleges that FERC failed in its mandatory duty to monitor the operation of the dam to ensure that Boyce had the necessary capital, experience and willingness to safely maintain the dam.
– Said Michael Pitt, Senior Partner of Pitt McGhee Palmer Bonanni & Rivers, in a news release. “This tragedy represents a massive failure of government at both the state and federal level. The federal government must be held accountable for its role in causing this disaster.” “It’s hard to believe that this dam has been considered dangerous for 26 years, and other owners during that time were allowed to sell their interests without making any improvements,” Dan Allen said. “They just left the community to suffer since we couldn’t just sell our ‘interests’ and leave. We want to rebuild our lakes and our lives.” https://www.ourmidland.com/news/article/Sanford-couple-suing-FERC-over-dam-failure-15988718.php
25. April 7, 2021 A pair of Michigan lawmakers are reintroducing legislation in the U.S. House aiming to plug gaps in federal law in response to the catastrophic flooding caused by the failure last May of the Edenville and Sanford dams in the Midland area. U.S. Reps. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, say the legislation would ensure compliance with dam and hydropower safety requirements and strengthen owner accountability for repairs and maintenance. The legislation, which was first introduced in December, is a reaction to the findings that regulators had struggled for years with oversight of dam operator Boyce Hydro, which had a history of safety and compliance problems and missed deadlines.
26. May 11 2021 Nearly one year after two dams on the Tittabawasee River failed, destroying 2,500 businesses and homes, the House Appropriations Subcommittee met to hear testimony from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
EGLE Director Liesl Clark and Luke Trumble, EGLE Dam Safety Unit supervisor, appeared before the subcommittee on Tuesday morning to discuss the list of 86 recommendations compiled by the 19 members of Michigan Dam Safety Task Force.
The task force was convened by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after the failure of two dams northwest of Midland on May 19, 2020.
According to Trumble, three of the task force’s 86 recommendations have been completed thus far, including increasing the visibility of EGLE’s Dam Safety Program, as well as establishing a stand-alone EGLE Dam Safety Unit, and naming a supervisor to oversee the unit’s operations.
27. May 19 2021 Exactly one year ago, many in Mid-Michigan had their lives changed forever when dams failed and brought catastrophic floodwaters, causing millions of dollars worth of damage. Heavy rains beginning on May 17 inundated the Tittabawassee River watershed with 5 to 8 inches of rain in two days. Water from the 200-year rainfall event in Gladwin and Arenac counties rushed south toward the Edenville Dam near the Gladwin-Midland county line.
– Around 5:45 p.m. on May 19, 2020, the Edenville Dam failed and allowed the contents of Wixom Lake to rush downstream toward the Sanford Dam, which quickly was inundated and failed hours later. More than 10,000 people were evacuated that evening as floodwaters rose to record levels. The Tittabawassee River crested at its highest level in recorded history the next day before floodwaters eased.
– “What comes in, goes out,” said Danny Costello, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. “Unfortunately, when the dams failed, besides what comes in and goes out, you added the water that’s been sitting there all the time as a lake and that was your extra 4 feet of surge down the river.” No dam is flood-proof, the Sanford Dam was earthen dam. Regulation of most dams falls on states. Residents can also get community fact sheets from sites like FEMA if they believe a dam requires maintenance.
28. Meanwhile, the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) oversaw more than 1,000 dams, most of which were more than six feet high and over five acres. The state said another 1,400 were not monitored as they were considered “low consequence” and a failure wouldn’t typically put people in danger. EGLE looked at not only the size of the dams but also the number of people and property impacted if a failure happens. The Edenville Dam was classified as ‘high hazard potential, which meant a breach was expected to result in deaths and severe impacts to property. EGLE Dam Safety Supervisor Luke Trumble said the condition of the dam was listed as ‘poor’ because of a spillway capacity deficiency.
29. A lawsuit that accuses the state of Michigan of failing to regulate and enforce safety regulations on a dam that failed, causing an estimated $200 million in damages and destroying 2,500 structures, may not be resolved soon, an attorney representing nearly 300 clients said. Attorney Ven Johnson joined affected residents for an update on litigation over the Edenville Dam in Midland County days before the one-year anniversary of its failure. The Edenville dam’s failure caused another dam to fail just two hours later, and damage was widespread.
– Johnson argued his case against the state in Michigan’s Court of Claims last November. He said he expects the state to appeal if he prevails, a process that could extend litigation into 2024, he said. Johnson’s clients represent just a fraction of those affected by the flood. Several lawsuits have been filed against Boyce Hydro and the state seeking compensation for some 3,000 claimants.
30. May 20 2021 The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said on Thursday (May 20, 2021) it terminated Boyce Hydro Power Llc’s licenses for the bankrupt company’s Secord, Smallwood and Sanford hydroelectric projects on the Tittabawasee River in Michigan. Heavy rain in May 2020 caused high inflows in the Tittabawassee, resulting in the breaching and failure of the Edenville Dam, the license for which FERC had already revoked in 2018 for Boyce’s failure to comply with safety directives and other license requirements. Those floodwaters caused the Sanford Dam downstream to overflow and submerged parts of the central Michigan town of Midland, displaced thousands of residents and spread into a Dow Chemical Co plant in the riverfront city.
– FERC said it revoked the dam licenses because Boyce failed to meet the obligations of its licenses due to its loss of project property in condemnation and bankruptcy proceedings. Four Lakes Task Force, a nonprofit organization, now owns the property associated with the projects and is coordinating the safe repair and management of the facilities, FERC said.
31. April 22, 2021 On Friday, April 19, Congressman John Moolenaar (R-MI) and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI) released the following joint statement after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) decision to fine Michigan dam operator Boyce Hydro $15 million after failing to abide by FERC operational safety orders:
“Dam failures like this can never happen again,” said Reps. Moolenaar and Dingell. “That is why last week we reintroduced our National Dam and Hydropower Safety Act to enhance safety operation requirements nationwide, modernize existing infrastructure, and improve communications between FERC and the states. While FERC’s action today makes it clear to future potential violators they will face serious consequences, a fine that comes after the fact does very little for the people who had their homes and businesses washed away. It’s clear that FERC needs enhanced tools to address this problem, protect our communities, and hold reckless dam operators like Boyce Hydro truly accountable. Our legislation will help improve those tools and prevent these tragedies from happening in the future.”
32. June 24, 2021: A Michigan law firm filed claims for more than 400 residents against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) after the Edenville Dam failure last year. The aggregate amount of the claims for the group of claimants is more than $334 million. The claims, filed by Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni & Rovers on June 18, allege FERC negligently entrusted the license to operate the Edenville Dam to private owners who it knew or should have known were unwilling or incapable of operating the dam safely, according to the law firm. The claims also allege FERC failed to monitor the operation of the dam and ensure Boyce Hydro, the dam’s operator, had the capital, experience, and willingness to maintain the dam.
33. Sept 13 2021: A five-person forensic team appointed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee has determined at least one of the culprits of the mid-Michigan dam failures that caused an estimated $200 million in property damage in May 2020.
The five-person Independent Forensic Team (IFT) released its interim report Monday, but noted a more detailed analysis will not be completed for another several months. The interim report focuses on the geological, structural and weather factors that caused the dam failures. The upcoming report will cover the human factors the IFT determines contributed to the disaster.
For the time being, the IFT is laying the blame for the failure of the Edenville Dam and subsequent topping of the Sanford Dam on a process identified as static liquefaction, which the report calls the “most plausible principle mechanism” for the Edenville Dam breach.
As a failure mechanism, stated the IFT, static liquefaction is “rare, but not unprecedented.”
The report explains: “Static liquefaction is a phenomenon in which a saturated, loose sand tends to lose strength and collapse rapidly under sustained (static) shear loading, generating high pore water pressure in the soil mass and very low strength. The stress-strain behavior is brittle, and the low residual strength is much lower than the static shear stresses, creating a large force imbalance, acceleration and velocity, and flow of the soil mass.”
Although the water level was at a record high, the report concludes the failure of the Edenville Dam was not caused by water overtopping the dam. Relying on the home video, the IFT said the visual evidence is not consistent with the overtopping hypothesis.
The IFT also determined internal erosion was not to blame for the Edenville Dam failure. “With no signs of significant seepage or eroding material from the dam face, the available information does not support the sudden breach being principally caused by internal erosion. … Regardless of whether the embankment was bi-zoned or homogeneous, the conclusion would be the same: the lack of observed seepage or embankment distress prior to the sudden failure does not support internal erosion as the primary failure mechanism.”
34. A sudden loss of soil strength under saturated conditions likely caused the catastrophic failure of the Edenville Dam near Midland last spring, according to an investigation report commissioned by federal regulators.
In an interim report on the disaster released Monday, Sept. 13, a five-member independent forensic team pinned the disaster on “static liquefaction,” a rare type of failure more commonly associated with tailings dams that store mining wastewater than water storage dams like Edenville.
The expert team, chosen last August in the disaster’s wake by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), reported there is “strong evidence” the collapse came through static liquefaction, which it called the “most plausible principal mechanism for the failure.”
The team was led by John W. France, president of JWF Consulting. Other members include dam engineering expert Irfan Alvi, hydraulics structural engineer Steve Higinbotham, water resources expert Arthur Miller and geotechnical engineer Jennifer Williams.
According to the report, the team has “essentially completed” investigation into the physical mechanism of the failure, but “evaluation of human factors is still in progress.” A final report is pending.
According to the 42-page interim report, the Edenville collapse may have been triggered by increased groundwater pressure within loose embankment sands combined with shear stress while the dam was holding back historic water volume on May 19, 2020 following several days of heavy rain. Reservoir levels at the time were about 5.5 feet above normal pool levels and are believed to have been three feet higher than the previous record. That “almost certainly contributed to the static liquefaction instability failure.”A static liquefaction failure is “rare” for water storage dams, which geotechnical engineers have “generally assumed” won’t have dramatic soil strength loss under most conditions.
Report authors noted that the failure occurred at a location along the earthen embankment where clay tile drains (a type of plumbing typically used on farms to drain excess water from subsurface soil) were noted as missing in a 2012 survey report.