U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Answers Dam Questions, In a Manner of Speaking

Dams, dams, dams seem to be on everyone’s damn mind as reports about Lewisville Lake dam, a nearly 70-year-old earthen structure, and Grapevine Lake dam, 62-year-old, have appeared in newspapers and online website in recent months alerting readers to the deterioration affecting dams not just across the metro area but all across the nation.

In Lewisville, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that manages our nation’s dams, is attempting to repair a 160-foot slide that caused part of the Lewisville dam to collapse into the lake. Over in Grapevine, the Corps recently closed Fairway Road, which crosses Grapevine Lake dam, to repair a 95-foot slide along the north side of the dam.

As the federal government scrambles to secure between $100 million to $200 million to repair Lewisville Lake dam, the Observer reached out to the Clay Church, a spokesman for the Corps, to find out what the federal agency plans to do about the 22 other dams currently past their 50-year operational age. Here's what we got back. To sum up: Y'all need to relax. Everything's jake.

Since Grapevine Lake dam and Lewisville Lake dam along with many of our nation’s dams, have long since passed their operational age of 50 years, what is the Corps doing to tackle the aging dam problem facing the public as well as future generations? It seems like these aging dams are just bleeding money, especially as you tackle unseen issues within the dams' foundation using relief wells (which helps relieve pressure on the dam).

All 25 of the Fort Worth District dams continue to be maintained and operated as designed. As our infrastructure ages we continue to apply the resources necessary to maintain them safely and ensure their continued operation. Relief wells are one mechanism that is used to ensure the safe operation of the project. The requirement for and number of relief wells necessary to enhance performance of a dam is evaluated for each unique site.

How many of the Fort Worth district's dams have passed their operational age? I'm assuming all but Joe Pool dam and Ray Roberts dam.

All 25 of the Fort Worth District dams continue to be maintained and operated as intended and it is our charter and mission to continue their operation. Maintenance requirements to provide continued service of these structures are continually identified and completed as part of our operation and maintenance program.

What about funding? How much money is the public looking at spending to tackle this issue? It seems like a multi-billion dollar problem nationwide.

We continue to be appropriated funds for the safe operation of our 25 flood risk management projects and will continue to be good stewards of those funds. In an address covered by the Army News Service in 2014, Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, USACE commanding general, proposes that the U.S. needs to invest $3.6 trillion in civil works by 2020.

This dam issue seems like a major issue that more people should be watching. Is the Corps joining with any other agencies to come up with viable solutions?

We continue to work with our stakeholders and non-federal sponsors to ensure the safe operation and maintenance of the 25 dams the Fort Worth District operates.

And what about the Bureau of Land Management's quest to auction of land to oil and gas drillers near the dams? It seems like a concerning issue for the Corps. What does the Fort Worth district plan to do about the land around Lewisville Lake? My understanding is the issue isn't completely over yet.

We continue with our other federal resource providers to ensure a strong America through the energy programs of the Department of Defense. The Fort Worth District will continue to support existing policies regarding mineral leases and activity while placing a priority on the continued safe operation of our structures. Specifics of the lease program administered by BLM will have to be addressed by BLM.
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.