SPOKANE, Wash. – A small earth dam in Stevens County that was ranked the worst in the state in 2016 had slightly improved condition when it was reinspected in 2021, according to an analysis published this week by The Associated Press.
The Van Stone Pit Lake Dam was the state’s only high-risk dam listed as unsatisfactory and in need of immediate repair, the worst category, when it was inspected in 2016, the analysis found. But it is now one of 50 high-risk dams in the state listed as being in poor condition, according to the analysis.
The state regulates about 1,100 dams, most of them private.
The Lake Van Stone Pit Dam sits on land that was once owned by a logging company. The land was seized sometime after 2016 by Stevens County officials for non-payment of taxes.
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This 2016 inspection revealed overgrown vegetation on the earth dam, holes in the downstream face; infiltration on an embankment slope; inadequate spillway to cope with heavy rains; and three houses in the likely flood zone. Not much has changed except that the dam’s rating was upped a notch after the 2021 inspection.
“Overall, inspectors found the dam to be in poor condition,” the state Department of Ecology said last week. “Ecology recommends that the dam be removed.”
The agency does not believe the dam is in imminent danger of failure.
Dating to the 1920s, the earth dam is of unknown construction “because it was not built under Ecology’s permitting process”, the agency said.
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“It is important to note that we do not own this dam, but we will provide assistance as it is in the best interest of the community,” Ecology said.
The dam, about 23 miles north of Colville, serves no purpose and was created when the construction of a road berm held back water, documents show. It is 25 feet tall, about 100 feet long, and about 15 feet wide.
Dams are classified according to the danger they present in the event of failure. A high-risk dam is likely to result in the loss of at least one human life if it fails.
Dams are also rated on their condition, ranging from satisfactory to fair to poor to unsatisfactory.
A dam in poor condition has safety deficiencies that require immediate action, but none exist in Washington. A dam in poor condition usually has safety defects that can realistically occur, which means repairs are needed.
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An Associated Press analysis counted more than 2,200 high-risk dams in poor or unsatisfactory condition across the United States — a substantial increase from a similar AP review conducted just three years ago. The true number is likely higher, though it’s unclear because a few states don’t track this data and many federal agencies refuse to release details about the condition of their dams or the hazards they pose.
Many of the state’s giant hydroelectric dams are owned by federal agencies or utilities.
There are a variety of reasons for the increasing number of troubled dams. The focus by some state regulators has raised new concerns. Delayed maintenance has led to worsening conditions. Dams built decades ago often present more risk than originally anticipated, as homes, businesses and highways have sprung up below them.
Climate change also plays a role. A warming atmosphere can cause stronger storms with heavier rainfall that can overwhelm older dams that lack adequately sized spillway outlets.
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The $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed last year by President Joe Biden will provide about $3 billion for dam-related projects, but that’s only a fraction of what is needed to safety upgrades and repairs to thousands of dams across the country.
Of Washington’s 50 high-risk dams listed in poor condition, most are in Yakima County with seven.
Below are the 50 dams in poor condition in the state, listed alphabetically by county:
- Camano Island Cattle Co., Adams
- Gap Road Reservoir, Benton
- Paterson Ranch Reservoir, Benton
- Blair Reservoir, Benton
- Meadow Lake, Chelan
- Colchuk Lake, Chelan
- Square Lake, Chelan
- Eightmile Lake Outlet, Chelan
- Klonqua Lake, Chelan
- Elwick, Clalam
- Tri Mountain Estates, Clark
- Haight Reservoir, Clark
- Zirkle Partridge Ranch, Grant
- Beacon Hill, Gray’s Harbor
- Fairview Reservoir, Grays Harbor
- Lords Lake East, Jefferson
- Swano Lake, Grays Harbor
- Lake Sylvia, Grays Harbor
- College Hill, Grays Harbor
- Newcastle Railway Embankment, King
- Lake Kittyprince, king
- Koura, Kitsap
- Upper Sunlight Lake, Kittitas
- Johnson Creek Reservoir, Klickitat
- Trask Lake, Mason
- Belfair Wastewater Treated Water Pond, Mason
- Fanchers, Okanogan
- Schweitzer, Okanogan
- Indian Creek, Pacific
- Slave Lake, Pierce
- Buck Mountain Reservoir #1, San Juan
- Whistle Lake, Skagit
- Kayak Lake, Snohomish
- Rainbow Springs, Snohomish
- Nielsen B Dam, Snohomish
- Nielsen C Dam, Snohomish
- Spokane Hutterite Brethren, Spokane
- Fairfield Sewage Lagoon No. 1, Spokane
- Lake Newman Flood Control, Spokane
- Deer Park Wastewater Treatment, Spokane
- Ponderosa Lake, Stevens
- Van Stone Mine Lake, Stevens
- Kyte, Thurston
- Den Hoed Dam No. 1, Yakima
- Evans Konnowac, Yakima
- Coleman, Yakima
- Black Rock Orchards, Yakima
- Parker Reservoir, Yakima
- Evans Pond, Yakima
- Roy Farm Irrigation Pond, Yakima