COLUMBIA, SC - Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that South Carolina is working to improve how the state oversees dams after historic rainfall this month led to a number of breaches, many on dams in the Columbia area.
“We are reconfiguring the way we do dams in South Carolina,” Haley told reporters. “Do we have enough engineers to monitor those dams? How are we going to go and maintain those dams going forward?”
The governor did not elaborate, but Department of Health and Environmental Control chief Catherine Heigel said “immediate action’’ plans to ensure “the integrity’’ of dams will follow the current inspections of all high hazard and significant hazard dams. Inspections of more than 600 dams are to be completed in the next two weeks.
DHEC will require some dams to be improved, agency spokeswoman Jennifer Read said Wednesday night. The agency might also seek to have lake levels lowered behind some dams, she said.
Wednesday’s remarks follow the failure of about three dozen earthen, community dams in South Carolina after sheets of rain pounded the state Oct. 4. Thousands of people suffered property damage and many fled their homes. More than 17 inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours in some areas of Columbia, making it the worst flooding many people had ever encountered in South Carolina’s capital city.
Haley’s comments also came a day after state regulators revealed they have retained a consulting firm to examine South Carolina’s dam safety program, which has one of the nation’s smallest budgets.
Since the Oct. 4 floods, the state’s commitment to dam safety has drawn criticism. The state has about 2,400 dams regulated by the state, but only a handful of inspectors to monitor them.
“Apparently, this is a pretty toothless program,’’ Arcadia Lakes area resident Gary Cadle said during a community meeting Tuesday night.
The DHEC-retained consulting firm, the HDR engineering company, will also examine the Gills Creek watershed and the scores of dams found there, DHEC regulator David Wilson said during Tuesday night’s meeting.
HDR will help DHEC study the watershed to “provide advice and input to the individual dam owners and lake owners as they move forward with the repairs or the adjustments that they need to make.’’
The number of dams that failed in the storm statewide has reached 36, Haley said. Almost half, 17, are in Richland County. Four of the dams that failed were not regulated by the state. Their locations were not released.
But the number of failed dams could rise as DHEC continues to assess conditions of dams in higher-populated areas. DHEC said it has inspected 357 dams, using more than 125 employees working on “dam response.”