Dams in New York pose a potential threat

Water from Welch Lake flows over a dam in Harriman State Park near Stony Point, N.Y., Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Dozens of failing dams across New York state are upstream of homes, roads or businesses, posing a potential threat to people if they fail. An Associated Press analysis found 90 “high-risk” dams in New York that were also rated in poor condition, a marked increase from several years ago fueled in large part by the state’s push to rate more dams.

Water flows over the Welch Lake Dam in Harriman State Park near Stony Point, N.Y., Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A high-risk designation does not mean that a dam is in danger of failing, but rather that human lives are likely to be lost if it does. Most of those dams are operated by state or local governments, including 11 dams within the state park system. Twenty-five of the dams are privately owned.

Deficiencies noted in the dams include cracks, leaks and inadequate spillway capacity, according to inspection reports obtained by the AP. While many of the dams are expected to function adequately under normal conditions, the cost of failure could be catastrophic.

Water flows over the Welch Lake Dam in Harriman State Park near Stony Point, N.Y., Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

At Harriman State Park, an inspection report last year noted “erosion and scour” at the end of a concrete spillway outfall that could compromise First Reservoir Dam. State parks officials said they are addressing deficiencies at five priority dams, including this one. Construction of the first reservoir dam will begin next year, and work on the Sebago Lake dam will begin in 2024, according to park officials.

Meanwhile, in Ithaca, the failure of the 60-foot dam during heavy rains could add to existing flooding, leaving sections of the city’s Finger Lakes inundated with a maximum of 2 to 15 feet of water. City officials said such a dam failure was unlikely, according to an emergency action plan.

Water flows over the Sebago Lake Dam in Harriman State Park near Sloatsberg, N.Y., Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Ithaca Public Works Superintendent Mike Thorne said the dam was built to centuries-old stability standards and must now meet more stringent requirements. “We’ve been working with various consultants on the 60-foot dam and have rough plans for what needs to happen,” he said, adding that the city is working on a grant to help fund the necessary work. “The problem is that it’s expensive.”

The number of high-risk dams in poor condition statewide is nearly double the number in the previous AP analysis three years ago. But the increase was mainly driven by previously unrated dams that received a condition rating in recent years. State Department of Environmental Conservation officials said they have focused on rating more dams than they regulate, increasing the portion with ratings to 87%, up from 49% in 2018.

Water flows over the Sebago Lake Dam in Harriman State Park near Sloatsberg, N.Y., Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

“Our staff immediately addresses any urgent conditions that are identified, remains available every day of the year to respond to any potential concerns resulting from storms or other damaging impacts, and conducts diligent inspections of private, public and state-regulated dams to to help. prevent problems before they occur,” the DEC said in a prepared statement.

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