In Midland disaster's aftermath, Michigan EGLE deploys staff to assist in cleanup, investigation, testing and risk assessment
From testing for potential toxic releases to helping local officials deal with debris removal, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) continues to work with local responders, federal and state partners, and industry to ensure the safety of residents as they clean up after Midland-area flood damage that occurred in the wake of two dam failures.
“Our hearts go out to those whose lives have been torn apart by this disaster,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE director. “Seeing the devastation first-hand last week reinforced for me the need to ensure that we are taking every possible step to both understand why these dams failed, and to provide tools, resources and support to help residents and businesses recover.”
In accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s directive to the agency, EGLE has begun a forensic investigation into the causes of the Edenville Dam failure. That probe will include an independent third-party investigation in coordination with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) investigation of the Sanford dam failure. At Gov. Whitmer’s direction, EGLE also is undertaking a review of policies and procedures to ultimately make recommendations on how to improve dam safety in Michigan.
At the same time those processes are under way, EGLE continues to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), FERC, other dam owners, local public safety departments and residents to assist in cleanups and determine what environmental hazards may have been created or altered during the flooding.
Among EGLE’s work:
- Tested and continues to test river sediment samples to assess the impact the flooding had on dioxins and other hazardous materials in the water. The sampling will provide important information about the impact floodwaters may have had on long-term remediation efforts along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw Rivers as well as Saginaw Bay.
- Mapping the locations of contaminated properties including underground storage tanks and is assessing their stability and potential for releases of hazardous materials. Site visits are being made to inspect those of greatest concern.
- Conducting flood deposited sediment chemical monitoring at previously established trend monitoring stations.
Dams and water bodies
- Developed plans to assess stream channel stability and identify areas of potential erosion problems, such as threats to upstream culverts, critical infrastructure and residences along the former dam impoundments and stream channel.
- Following the failures, EGLE Dam Safety staff communicated with all owners of dams with high or significant hazard potential within the flood impacted region to assess possible damages. Subsequent inspections were performed on several dams impacted by the flooding within the region to assess actual damages and review mitigation measures, in coordination with USACE dam safety experts.
- Has coordinated with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Fisheries Division to conduct surveys on damage to the natural resources associated with the dam failures, such as fish kills, habitat loss and impacts to threatened and endangered species.
- Dam Safety staff were onsite on the day of the dam failures to assist with damage assessment, mitigation measures and coordinating with emergency management personnel.
Drinking water impacts
- Four staff engineers from EGLE’s Drinking Water and Environmental Health Division worked closely with the two affected water suppliers to ensure adequate measures were taken to protect water supplies and that testing of drinking water was performed.
- The engineers also evaluated the risk to suppliers that draw water from the Saginaw Bay area and advised local officials on testing and response to any contamination that may have been swept into the source water by the flooding event.
- Drinking Water staff worked with local agencies to expedite the replacement of a washed-out water main and repairs of other damage to water infrastructure.
Evaluations at Dow
- Has been in contact with Dow Chemical Co. multiple times daily to ascertain what parts of their operations were affected and the extent to which contamination may have been released. Also to evaluate environmental infrastructure for continued operation and effectiveness (e.g., groundwater collection systems, landfill integrity, post flood sampling, etc.)
- Working with EPA and Dow to evaluate the effect of flooding on previously implemented remedies on the Tittabawassee River, Saginaw River and Saginaw Bay Superfund site.
- In contact with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) monitoring the status of the research reactor at Dow.
Safe debris handling
- Proactively issued a waiver for waste hauling across county lines for Iosco, Arenac, Gladwin, Midland, and Saginaw counties to expedite debris disposal.
- Issued guidance for property owners and businesses on safe handling and disposal of debris was disseminated through the state’s Emergency Operations Center.
- Worked with EPA Emergency Response to establish collection stations and pickup of household hazardous wastes that need to be collected and disposed of appropriately.
- Worked with county waste disposal operators and local jurisdictions on issuing emergency waiver for temporary disposal and staging areas.
Coordination with local officials
- Technical assessments from EGLE strengthened county applications for federal disaster relief.
- Staff coordinated with county emergency managers to offer local assistance, as needed.
- Monitored and coordinated with Midland Wastewater Treatment Plant and Dow on the integrity of wastewater treatment systems.
- Used drones and LiDAR remote sensing technology over the dams and impacted areas to assess damage, assist in the investigation and develop strategies for recovery.
To keep up with the latest information about the EGLE’s work in flooding aftermath, go to EGLE’s web page devoted to the incident. The page includes an interactive online map showing the location, condition, hazard risk and other information on all dams regulated by the State of Michigan.