Living with Dams: Extreme Rainfall Events | 2015
Dam owners are responsible for
the upkeep of their dam and liable,
both legally and ethically, for all
impacts that occur if the dam
should fail. Legal precedent shows
that dam owners have been held
liable for damages in past cases.
Although an extreme rainfall
event may not have occurred
at a given dam location, these
events do occur, are quantifiable
and their likeliness is predictable.
They are the basis of professional
design practices for critical dam
infrastructure where human lives
are at risk. Extreme rainfall events
are not random, unpredictable acts
of God that surprise designers and
owners with their ferocity.
The impoundment of water is a
hazardous undertaking. Those who
benefit from its storage are also
responsible for its containment.
Owners must diligently guard
against the catastrophic release of
this stored water. To do anything
less, knowing the potential of
extreme rainfall events and the
dire impacts of failure, would be
ethically irresponsible at best,
and grossly negligent at worst.
Ignorance is no excuse.
Kaloko Dam Failure, Hawaii
– A private dam owner pled no contest to reckless endangerment for causing the
deaths of seven people after his dam failed in 2006. He was charged with seven counts of manslaughter. He was also
charged with $12 million in restitution and fees. The EPA portion of the fine – $7.5 million – was the largest penalty
against an individual polluter in U.S. history.
Hope Mills Lake Dam Failure, North Carolina
– Litigation has been underway for several years between the Town
of Hope Mills and the owners and designers of a dam which failed in 2010 causing extreme property loss and loss of
the town’s centerpiece lake.
Hadlock Pond Dam, NewYork
– A municipally owned dam failed in 2005 and was the subject of litigation. There
have been 11 different lawsuits involving 119 plaintiffs. The town and the designers of the failed dam have all been
sued. In addition, the town spent over $4 million replacing the failed dam, which was three times more than the initial
cost because the site had to be cleaned up and the dam rebuilt from scratch.
Taum Sauk Dam Failure, Missouri
– A private dam-owning company paid over $170 million in restitution and
clean-up costs after one of its dams failed in 2005.
Elevators and major bridges are
designed for a capacity and weight
that should never be exceeded.
We don’t ever want that elevator
or bridge to fail and we accept that
design requirement. Dams are no
different. Just as elevators cables
and bridge structural members
must support extreme weight,
dams must safely withstand
extreme rainfall events that, while
difficult to imagine, do occur.
Why should I care about
extreme rainfall events?