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Living with Dams: Extreme Rainfall Events | 2015

Legal Liability

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?