Dangerous dams in Texas

Dangerous dams in Texas

A KVUE Defenders investigation uncovered an increase of Texas dams in poor condition. For one Bastrop County neighborhood, it's just a matter of time before disaster strikes.

Maria Orrostiera lives about half a mile downstream from Clear Springs Lake earthen dam in Bastrop County. The KVUE Defenders uncovered that dam could fail at any moment, destroying Orrostiera's house and nearly 20 other homes below it.

Records from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) show erosion is causing "serious safety deficiencies." If left unrepaired, it "poses a threat" to anyone and anything downstream.

In October 2012, heavy rain flooded the area and nearly broke the dam.

"This is something that's going to be a problem for us. Water doesn't seem to be so dangerous, but when it happens like those floods did, it can take a life," said Orrostiera.

Warren Samuelson, the dam safety manager for the TCEQ, said the agency sent letters notifying Bastrop residents about problems with the Clear Springs dam, but the state has no money to help with repairs. The state cannot force anyone to fix it, because the neighborhood association, which once owned it, no longer exists. So ownership, hence responsibility, is unclear.

"There are not many avenues for assistance. They would have to go get private financing," said Samuelson.

According to TCEQ, inspectors reported 245 dams in poor condition in 2008. Now, there are 287. State officials said they also don't know the condition of thousands dams. A few years ago, state lawmakers removed about 3,200 dams from inspection requirements.

Dangerous dams have turned deadly in Texas. In 1989, one person died when a dam broke near Henderson, and 47 people drowned when Austin's Tom Miller Dam failed in 1900.

Russell McMillen lives next to the Clear Springs dam, too. He said the neighborhood and the county don't have the estimated $200,000 to fix it, and he thinks the state should pitch in.

"They probably won't do anything until something bad actually happens. Until somebody is hurt, something is damaged," said McMillen.

Samuelson said his hands are tied. The state has no money budgeted to repair dams. Lawmakers have also not increased the state's dam safety budget in the past five years.

"There is a concern that something could happen," said Samuelson about the Clear Springs dam.

"I'm pretty sure he would be, I mean who wouldn't be? There is a whole bunch of water running right through your back yard," said Orrostiera.

Orrostiera's neighborhood also does not have an emergency action plan required by the state. Samuelson said about 25 percent of all the state's high and significant hazard dams don't have emergency action plans.

Use the interactive map below to search dam conditions in your area.


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