Mo. legislators want more inspections on large dams

Sunday, February 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:44 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Fourteen months after the Taum Sauk Reservoir burst, flooding Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park with one billion gallons of water, two Missouri legislators are seeking to increase dam inspection regulations.

Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and Rep. Walt Bivins, R-St. Louis County, have sponsored bills aiming to increase the number of dams the state inspects.

The state currently requires inspections for dams measuring 35 feet or more in height.

The bills, however, would call for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to inspect all of the state’s high hazard and significant hazard dams.

High hazard dams, those measuring 25 feet high and holding back about 13 million gallons of water, are dams that would likely cause human deaths if they were to fail.

Significant hazard dams, those measuring 25 feet high and holding back about 26 million gallons of water, are dams that would likely destroy public infrastructure if they were to fail. Public infrastructure includes power plants, wastewater treatment plants, municipal water plants and numbered highways.

“Frankly, this is more in line with what other states around us have,” said Floyd Gilzow, deputy director of the Natural Resources Department. “We still think there’s a public safety issue involved in this.”

Legislators proposed both bills last year, but they failed because of a lack of time, said Bivins, chairman of the Energy and Environment Committee.

Engler said the bills would increase the number of dams that the state inspects by 10 to 20 percent. The Natural Resources Department currently regulates 600 dams.

Gilzow said the estimated yearly costs was $450 to inspect a high hazard dam and $250 to inspect a significant hazard dam. The dams’ owners would pay for the department’s inspections.

“I think it actually provides a benefit,” Engler said. “They get their dam inspected for a reasonable price.”

The Natural Resources Department would likely use some of the funds to hire additional inspectors, Bivins said.

According to the department, Missouri is home to 205 high hazard dams, 244 significant hazard dams and 203 low hazard dams.

Officials with the Missouri Municipal League and the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance said they were unconcerned with the bills.

Both bills also call for the state to inspect larger agricultural dams and Missouri’s federal dams — such as the Taum Sauk Reservoir.

Leslie Holloway, director of State and Local Government Affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said the bureau supported the bills, as long as inspection requirements include only high hazard and significant hazard agricultural dams.

Holloway said the bureau would prefer fewer regulations, but “we understand there has to be some oversight.”

Engler said he proposed his bill in response to the Taum Sauk disaster. But, he said he didn’t want to overreact and ask the state to inspect all dams.

“We don’t want a knee-jerk reaction,” said Engler, whose district includes the Taum Sauk Reservoir. “We don’t want to go out and inspect every farm pond.”

The Taum Sauk Reservoir, situated along the Black River in Reynolds County, breached in December 2005. The 600-foot wide V-shape breach drained the 50-acre reservoir, flooding the state park and destroying the home of Jerry Toops, the park’s superintendent.

No one was killed. Rescuers found Toops in a tree. His wife, Lisa, and their three children were found in a field north of the home.

Lisa Toops said she welcomed the bills.

“Anytime you increase inspections to make something safer, it’s in the benefit of everyone,” Toops said.

The bills also call for a geologist or geological engineer to certify new dams, and for at least one owner of a high hazard dam or reservoir to sit on the state’s Dam and Reservoir Safety Council.

Bivins said a high hazard dam owner could provide valuable insight to the safety council.

“It would bring some real-time, real-life experience,” Bivins said.

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