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Michigan dam safety program continues to assist recovery one year after Mid-Michigan dam failures


May 17, 2021

One year after the failures of the Edenville and Sanford dams, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) continues to assist the community in recovery efforts and planning for the future of the affected communities.

Wednesday marks a year since the dams failed during a torrential rain event, displacing thousands of residents, damaging businesses and livelihoods, destroying property and natural resources, and illuminating the chronic problem of deferred maintenance of Michigan's infrastructure.

"A year has passed, but for the families and businesses affected by the dam failures it surely feels like only yesterday," said Liesl Clark, EGLE director. "We had personnel literally on the dam just prior to its failure, and since then we've engaged continually with community leaders to provide scientific, logistical and technical support to help them recover from this disaster."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer affirmed the state's long-term commitment to affected communities.

"It has been one year since the Midland area was faced with a historic flood. When I first toured the damage a year ago, I promised the affected families that we would be with them every step of the way, and that continues today," said Governor Whitmer. "I want to thank everyone who has come together and stepped up to help rebuild this community. Together, even in the face of challenging circumstances, we're showing how strong Michiganders can be when we come together. Lt. Governor Gilchrist and I will always have your back as we continue to recover and rebuild."

Most recently, EGLE oversaw emergency work to draw down water levels in the Tobacco River upstream of the remaining portion of the Edenville Dam to help protect downstream residents and properties from further damage during spring flooding. That work builds on EGLE's continuing efforts to assist, which have included water quality monitoring, helping local officials expedite debris removal, assisting with restoration of drinking water infrastructure, assessing and mitigating continued natural resource damages, and assisting communities in disaster relief applications among many other activities.

Clark said that with the help of the State Legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the agency is also moving forward on the recommendations from external reviews of its program, including additional staffers that allowed the creation of a separate Dam Safety Unit within EGLE's Water Resources Division.

Completed and ongoing reviews of EGLE's dam safety program include:

With support from the Michigan Legislature, the reorganized Dam Safety Unit within EGLE's Water Resources Division will soon have five full-time-equivalent staffers, doubling the resources available at the time of the dam failures last year. At that time, the state had two inspectors to oversee more than 1,000 state-regulated dams. Ideal staffing for the state of Michigan, according to the ASDSO's recommendations and supported by the Task Force's report, would be 11 full-time personnel devoted solely to dam safety.

"With the help of the additional staffing provided by the Legislature, we've strengthened our efforts to ensure state-regulated dams meet or exceed all safety requirements," said Clark. "The recovery and restoration efforts at Edenville are still top of mind for us every day, while at the same time we are working hard to help ensure there is never a repeat of this disaster."

Clark said she looks forward to working with legislators on additional recommendations from the program review. Those include additional funding, staffing, and legislative changes that provide regulators with better resources to hold dam owners accountable for safe maintenance practices and upkeep.

For more information about dams go to the Dam Safety Unit webpage and for updates on EGLE's work after the Mid-Michigan dam failures go to the Edenville Dam Recovery webpage.

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