28 votes

Michigan governor declares emergency after dams collapse

16 comments

  1. [3]
    Flashynuff
    (edited )
    Link
    Midland is home to Dow Chemical, and their facilities are directly in the danger zone of this flood. They have implemented their flood preparedness plan, which I can only hope is incredibly...

    Midland is home to Dow Chemical, and their facilities are directly in the danger zone of this flood. They have implemented their flood preparedness plan, which I can only hope is incredibly comprehensive otherwise this has the potential to be one of the worst environmental disasters Michigan has ever seen.

    This also brings up another issue: how do we safely manage other disasters while COVID-19 is still a threat? The federal government's abysmal response to COVID-19 compounds with every other emergency, meaning every evacuation center is now a petri dish for new outbreaks. This will only get worse as the summer goes on and we get into hurricane, wildfire, and tornado season.

    18 votes
    1. [2]
      joplin
      Link Parent
      Oh man, my spouse used to work in the health and safety department at the headquarters of a large food manufacturer in the MidWest. They had some great preparedness plans for a number of...

      Oh man, my spouse used to work in the health and safety department at the headquarters of a large food manufacturer in the MidWest. They had some great preparedness plans for a number of scenarios. The problem was that the people who were responsible for implementing the various pieces were ... let's say "unreliable."

      For example, they had large quantities of hazardous chemicals used to make food. (That may sound odd, but it included chemicals to clean the machines, industrial quantities of alcohol and bleach, and stuff.) The person responsible for reporting issues to the EPA would try to send their quarterly reports that listed 0 issues. My spouse's boss had to repeatedly tell them that listing no issues is suspicious because it's basically impossible. They were required to report things like automotive oil run-off into municipal drains near their parking lot. It's not going to get anyone in trouble, but they need to track how much there is from all the businesses in the area to know whether it's going to be an issue. If you report nothing, and there's really something, you're setting the company up for huge liability should something eventually go wrong. But the person responsible didn't care. Every quarter there was another report showing absolutely 0 issues.

      So I'm never too confident that even with a plan it will be executed correctly (or at all). Finger's crossed that Dow's employees are more responsible!

      11 votes
      1. Flashynuff
        Link Parent
        Dow's record with PFAS in Michigan does not fill me with hope.

        Finger's crossed that Dow's employees are more responsible!

        Dow's record with PFAS in Michigan does not fill me with hope.

        7 votes
  2. [9]
    dubteedub
    Link
    Apparently the issues around Michigan's dams have been known for quite some time. It is not clear to me why there has not been a major push to invest in rebuilding or replacing them. Feds revoked...

    Apparently the issues around Michigan's dams have been known for quite some time. It is not clear to me why there has not been a major push to invest in rebuilding or replacing them.

    Numerous violations and longstanding concerns that the Edenville Dam could not withstand a significant flood led the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to revoke its license for power generation in September 2018.

    The Edenville dam, located on the border of Midland and Gladwin counties, failed late Tuesday afternoon, leading to the failure of a downstream dam on the Tittabawassee River and forcing evacuations in Midland County.

    This article is back from 2017 and highlights the serious issues with these dams.

    The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality oversees 88 potential high-hazard dams in the state, and all but six of them are approaching or past 50 years old, the average engineered life span for a dam. Overall, more than 90% of Michigan’s nearly 2,600 dams will reach or exceed their design life by 2020, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) stated in a 2009 report giving Michigan a D grade on the condition of its dams.

    A 2007 study on the growing crisis of aging dams in Michigan, prepared by Public Sector Consultants and Prein and Newhof for the Michigan Municipal League Foundation, said Michigan has nearly 120 dams in need of an estimated $50 million to address their repair or removal.

    11 votes
    1. [3]
      Flashynuff
      Link Parent
      Worth noting that more than half of these dams, including the one that failed, are privately owned. I do not think it is a good thing that so much of our infrastructure is owned (and maintained)...

      Worth noting that more than half of these dams, including the one that failed, are privately owned. I do not think it is a good thing that so much of our infrastructure is owned (and maintained) by unaccountable private entities.

      17 votes
      1. [2]
        Amarok
        Link Parent
        Fukushima was in the same situation. Private profit chasing through cost cutting does not seem to mesh well with maintaining public/key infrastructure. I wonder if forcing infrastructure into a...

        Fukushima was in the same situation. Private profit chasing through cost cutting does not seem to mesh well with maintaining public/key infrastructure. I wonder if forcing infrastructure into a non-profit business model would help.

        11 votes
        1. Litmus2336
          Link Parent
          TEPCO holds lots of blame for Fukushima, but the government holds equal amounts. We need much stricter regulation on safety infrastructure.

          TEPCO holds lots of blame for Fukushima, but the government holds equal amounts. We need much stricter regulation on safety infrastructure.

          9 votes
    2. [4]
      patience_limited
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Michigan is not unique among U.S. states with respect to neglected watercourse infrastructure: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/23/us/americas-aging-dams-are-in-need-of-repair.html It's...

      Michigan is not unique among U.S. states with respect to neglected watercourse infrastructure:

      https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/23/us/americas-aging-dams-are-in-need-of-repair.html

      It's part and parcel of the overall neglect that's been a hallmark of U.S. governance for the past 50 years. Despite all the gab about "shovel-ready" projects when government stimulus was discussed during the last recession, the long-term, multi-trillion dollar plan needed for repair and replacement never materialized. So now we've got climate change, dilapidation, and utilization growth all piling up. Congressional Democrats recently tabled a spending plan, but it's not enough and politically has nowhere to go.

      The State of Michigan, by itself, has had long-running political problems with funding. Republican governors and legislatures have consistently blocked spending for the most basic infrastructure maintenance, to the point where our potholed roads are a national joke. Governor Whitmer (my latest pol crush!) has a plan for that, and yes, it involves raising taxes.

      Flooding and rising lake levels have been causing major property damage statewide for the past year. The situation might focus center-right voters (who've been watching the waterfront bluffs crumble under their summer cottages) on exactly how much damage is traceable to Republican tax-slashing and consequent underfunding.

      Edit: Also, roads, bridges, dams, the electrical grid, etc. are very dull topics for discourse and journalism. Until they aren't. Public inattention and lack of priorities are factors.

      11 votes
      1. [3]
        SantalBlush
        Link Parent
        It's like Michiganders have just accepted that the roads will not improve; they've given up on that fanciful idea. All they can do is treat their terrible roads like a point of pride, which is...

        It's like Michiganders have just accepted that the roads will not improve; they've given up on that fanciful idea. All they can do is treat their terrible roads like a point of pride, which is pretty grim.

        And don't forget about toxic plumes in the groundwater, like in Rockford, Ann Arbor, and elsewhere. Michigan is in rough shape.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          Flashynuff
          Link Parent
          I don't think anyone here is proud of the roads. The state just needs to stop going with the lowest bidder for construction of roads; they need to lower the weight limit per axle for trucks, stop...

          I don't think anyone here is proud of the roads. The state just needs to stop going with the lowest bidder for construction of roads; they need to lower the weight limit per axle for trucks, stop using salt, and they need to reallocate road funding dollars to the areas that need it most. The roads in the UP are fantastic and that's because they use sand and have more miles of roads, so they get more funding (even if the roads are used less).

          The dioxane plume in Ann Arbor is, yet again, the fault of private industry making a huge mess and leaving it to the government to clean it up.

          3 votes
          1. SantalBlush
            Link Parent
            They're not actually proud of the roads, what I mean is that they brag ironically about how their roads are worse than other states'. Of course they want them fixed. The state needs to just do...

            They're not actually proud of the roads, what I mean is that they brag ironically about how their roads are worse than other states'. Of course they want them fixed.

            The state needs to just do those things, but it hasn't, and the roads have been in terrible shape for a long time. I agree about the UP, but I wonder if it's about more than sand and total miles of road. It does seem like blue parts of the state tend to have it worst, but perhaps that is in my head.

            4 votes
    3. patience_limited
      Link Parent
      More details on the private ownership problems, for those interested. A public partnership was in the process of taking over the primary Edenville dam due to the owner's dereliction of recommended...

      More details on the private ownership problems, for those interested. A public partnership was in the process of taking over the primary Edenville dam due to the owner's dereliction of recommended maintenance.

      6 votes
  3. [2]
    Kuromantis
    Link
    Sounds like the US has a third world shithole problem /s On a more serious note though, more infrastructure spending is a bipartisan opinion.

    Sounds like the US has a third world shithole problem /s

    On a more serious note though, more infrastructure spending is a bipartisan opinion.

    9 votes
    1. Litmus2336
      Link Parent
      Unfortunately, considering Trump threatened to federally defund Michigan, where that infrastructure spending goes is very much a partisan issue.

      Unfortunately, considering Trump threatened to federally defund Michigan, where that infrastructure spending goes is very much a partisan issue.

      11 votes
  4. [2]
    dubteedub
    Link
    As a minor update to this story, CNN published a bunch of pictures showing how these dam failures drained an entire lake and they are pretty astonishing to look at. These before and after images...

    As a minor update to this story, CNN published a bunch of pictures showing how these dam failures drained an entire lake and they are pretty astonishing to look at.

    2 votes
    1. Kuromantis
      Link Parent
      Wow.

      In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately nine feet of water," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said at a news conference.

      Wow.