South Carolina

Are dams in better shape for Florence than in 2015? Agency says yes but checks anyway

Dams failed across the Columbia area during a historic 2015 flood. Today, many have been repaired, but state inspectors are checking  many to see if they will hold up when Hurricane Florence roars through the Carolinas.
Dams failed across the Columbia area during a historic 2015 flood. Today, many have been repaired, but state inspectors are checking many to see if they will hold up when Hurricane Florence roars through the Carolinas.

South Carolina’s dams, which failed disastrously in 2015, generally are in better shape to withstand Hurricane Florence, but inspectors are checking to make sure, a state agency spokesman said Monday afternoon.

S.C. inspectors examined 25 local dams on the state’s coast over the weekend and were looking at 48 more Monday in interior counties of eastern South Carolina, said Tommy Crosby, a spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.



As of Monday, DHEC was assessing dams in Chesterfield, Lee, Darlington, Marlboro, Dillon, Florence, Marion and Williamsburg, Crosby said. Over the weekend, DHEC inspected dams in all of the coastal counties, he said. Results of the inspections were not immediately available.



The dams being looked at are mostly earthen structures, many of them privately owned, as opposed to large dams like the one at Lake Murray. That is overseen by the federal government.

DHEC’s efforts were occurring as Hurricane Florence bore down on the Carolinas. As of Monday evening, it appeared the powerful storm will directly hit North Carolina later this week. But swollen rivers from the Tarheel State -- and heavy rains over the region -- could swamp South Carolina, particularly the eastern part. The threat of a direct hit on South Carolina also remains.

Crosby said that for the most part, local dams in South Carolina are in better shape to withstand a major hurricane and rain storm than they were in 2015, when a historic deluge caused some 50 dams to crumble, many in the Columbia area. The dam failures contributed to flooding in places where high water had rarely been seen, such as major intersections in Forest Acres. The 2015 floods occurred after a rain system stalled over the state, dumping nearly two feet of rain in the Columbia area over several days time.

The 2015 storm sparked a substantial upgrade in DHEC’s dam-safety program, including adding more inspectors and money to bolster what had been one of the nation’s weakest dam safety programs. Hurricane Matthew in 2016, however, caused more dams to fail in eastern South Carolina.



The agency Monday asked that dam owners lower water levels and make preparations for the storm. More than 2,000 were alerted, Crosby said.



“We are advising dam owners to start lowering some water levels, looking over their dams and just being prepared for what we anticipate to be high levels of rainfall due to the hurricane,’‘ Crosby said.

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