Roy Gilbert

Aging US dams pose risk to thousands

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On a cold morning last March, Kenny Angel got a frantic knock on his door. Two workers from a utility company in northern Nebraska had come with a stark warning: Get out of your house.

Just a little over a quarter-mile upstream, the 92-year-old Spencer Dam was straining to contain the swollen, ice-covered Niobrara River after an unusually intense snow and rainstorm. The workers had tried but failed to force open the dam’s frozen wooden spillway gates. So, fearing the worst, they fled in their truck, stopping to warn Angel before driving away without him.

Minutes later, the dam came crashing down, unleashing a wave of water carrying ice chunks the size of cars. Angel’s home was wiped away; his body was never found. This combination of photos provided by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, shows the Spencer Dam near Spencer, Neb., in November 2013, top, when it was holding back water on the Niobrara River and again in March 2019, after the dam failed during a flood. State inspectors had given the dam a “fair” rating less than a year earlier. Until it failed, it looked little different from thousands of others across the U.S., and that could portend a problem. (Nebraska Department of Natural Resources via AP) HOGP “He had about a 5-minute notice, with no prior warning the day before,” Scott Angel, one of Kenny’s brothers, said.

State inspectors had given the dam a “fair” rating less than a year earlier. Until it failed, it looked little different […]

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