Large flood poses major risk
The dam holds back 40 billion gallons of water on the Tuscarawas River.
DOVER, Ohio (AP) -- The nearly 70-year-old Dover Dam is among the nation's 10 most at-risk dams and a large flood could overwhelm it, according to an assessment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"If the region saw a flood bigger than last year's, the dam could fail," said Nick Krupa, the Corps' operations manager for the Muskingum area in northeast Ohio.
"Failure of Dover Dam would be rapid and catastrophic and would happen so fast we probably wouldn't be able to open the gates."
The dam, built of concrete building blocks, holds back 40 billion gallons of water on the Tuscawaras River. It went into operation in 1938.
It sits about three to four miles north of Dover and New Philadelphia and about 15 miles south of Canton and is surrounded by farmland communities and larger, residential communities.
The Corps estimates that the failure of the dam during a maximum flood could cause $670 million in property damage, The (Dover-New Philadelphia) Times Reporter reported Sunday.
Such estimates are determined by considering damage that could occur without dams in place at times of maximum rainfall and flood levels, said Rodney Cremeans, project manager at the Corps of Engineers district office in Huntington, W.Va. He said such a worst-case scenario would cause flooding as far as the Ohio River.
Conditions that lead to such flooding, Krupa said, happen once every several hundred years. He said measures are taken to prevent problems, such as releasing water in a controlled matter when flood conditions are forecast.
"We'll always work under the assumption that it's better to be safe than sorry," Krupa said. "Our engineers know what the dam can handle and at what level it would be in danger of failing."
The concern is that heavy waters could force the dam to slide because there are fractures in the rock, shale and limestone that sits beneath it, said Steve Brewster, chief of engineering in the geology section at the Corps' Huntington office.
Patty Levengood, director of Tuscarawas County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said there is countywide plan that addresses all the county's dams, but creating a specific policy for responding to a Dover Dam failure is high on the list of priorities.
In January 2005, flood levels forced the evacuation of some homes near the dam. The floods reached record-breaking water levels, but officials said the dam performed the way it was designed to.
Ninth on the list
The dam is ninth on a list of the nation's most at-risk dams compiled last year, Corps officials said. Concerns about Dover Dam date to 1977, but until last year's list, the Corps had not had an opportunity to determine specific risks, Brewster said. Preliminary cost estimates to bring the dam up to today's standards are about $71 million.
"There are a lot of identified deficiencies that go unresolved because there isn't enough funding to address all the needs," Krupa said. "We have nothing in our budget to address major maintenance packages or serious issues like Dover Dam sliding."