FLINT, Mich. — Some old Michigan dams need upgrades or should be removed before they fail under extreme weather conditions, according to a report published Sunday.
Three dams monitored by state regulators are rated as unsatisfactory, one is poor, and 15 are considered to be fair. Dozens of Michigan dams are close to 50 years old or older, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Byron Lane, chief of dam safety at the Department of Environmental Quality, said, “It’s infrastructure in our country today, not just dams. Bridges, highways. That’s a huge, ticking time bomb in my mind for the entire country.”
Dams typically are built to confine water from a river or stream. The purpose may be to improve recreation by creating a lake, producing electricity, or controlling flooding.
In Flint, the Hamilton Dam on the Flint River in downtown is crumbling, and some floodgates do not work. The Flint campus of the University of Michigan is on both sides of the dam.
“I had no idea. I’m a little bit scared to be sitting here right now,” said Hannah Lee, 18, a UM student.
Rebecca Fedewa, executive director of the Flint River Watershed Coalition, said impounding the Flint River as a backup water supply may be unnecessary as the city moves into a regional water authority. The coalition would like to see the dam removed, a step that would provide more access for fishing or kayaking.
“With the river low, the chances of anything happening seem very small,” Ms. Fedewa said of a dam failure. “With the heavier rains and spring thaws, the river does go up quite a bit. We always have our fingers crossed.”
More than $2 million in state money was set aside last year for local governments and other groups to help with repairs or removals.
Five projects received grants, including the removal of the Boardman Dam on the Boardman River in the Traverse City area and work on the Otsego Dam on the Kalamazoo River in Allegan County. The Trowbridge Dam, also on the Kalamazoo, is rated with the Otsego Dam as unsatisfactory.
Removal of contaminated sediment in the Kalamazoo River is delaying removal of the Otsego and Trowbridge dams, Mr. Lane said.
More than half of the state’s 2,600 dams are privately owned, he said.