Lawrenceburg Now

Monday, January 3, 2011

State Officials Say Drew Dam Report Greatly Exaggerated

   A dam in Lawrence County has gained much press in recent days, with media outlets reporting that the dam is in danger of failing, however state officials indicate that those reports were greatly exaggerated.

   The initial article, published in The Jackson Sun, reported that two high-hazard dams in the state were in need of “immediate repair” in the wake of widespread flooding experienced in the state in May.

They reported that “sixty-six dams around the state are classified as high-hazard but are not subject to inspection,” and that, “a high-hazard rating means people would likely die of the dam fails.”

The article went on to say that Wilbanks Dam in Cumberland County and Drew Lake Dam in Lawrence County were the two dams in danger of failing. Drew Lake Dam is located off Glendale Road in the Leoma area.

   Once the article was published it was picked up by a multitude of media outlets; the information reprinted/used without consultation with state officials.

   Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Safe Dams Program representative Meg Lockhart pointed out last week that these reports have been exaggerated, and that individuals residing near the dams are not in imminent danger.

   Lockhart explained that both dams are classified as “farm ponds” and do have a rating of “high-hazard.” Farm ponds are lakes on any privately owned property that are not open to the public in any way.

Although these lakes are assigned a classification of high-hazard, significant hazard, or low hazard, under Tennessee law these privately owned lakes are exempt from regulation.

As such, inspectors with the Safe Dams Program only conduct inspections of these dams with the permission of the property owners.

Lockhart explained that these dams do receive inspection periodically “to see if circumstances have changed or if they still qualify for the exemption under Tennessee law.”

   Lockhart said that inspectors began scheduling inspection of these privately owned dams following the May floods because “The Safe Dams staff was aware of both regulated and unregulated dams across the state that sustained moderate to significant damages as a result of these storms.”

   To date, all but a handful of the 66 high-hazard, unregulated dams in the state have been inspected. “All the farm ponds inspected were in fair to good condition except two,” Lockhart said. Wilbanks Dam was found to be in “overall poor condition,” while Drew Lake Dam was said to be “leaking water through the bottom of the dam.”

   A report filed by Inspector Ernest Ekwugha following the June 7, 2010 inspection of the dam at the ten-acre Drew Lake indicated that a running leak of approximately twenty gallons per minute had been detected, as well as a secondary leak of approximately five gallons per minute.

   Ekwugha pointed out that “generally the dam appeared in poor condition,” but noted that it had been rebuilt due to flood damage and “we are not sure whether it was actually completed.”

   Ekwugha said that the dam would retain the classification of high-hazard because there are two mobile homes and one house downstream that could experience flooding should the dam ever fail.

   When inspector Lyle Bentley notified the owner of Drew Dam of their findings, the owner explained that the water at the base of the dam was not a leak, but was actually water from a spring.

Lockhart said Friday, “It is important to note that the owner of Drew Dam in Lawrence County advised our Safe Dams Program in November that the leak at the base of his dam has dried out. So, this particular leak is more than likely due to a spring.”

   Inspectors hope to conduct a follow-up inspection of Drew Lake Dam by June of 2015.


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