Faster safety inspections needed for ‘high hazard’ dams, say auditors

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A 22-year-old man was injured after falling onto a spillway at the Barker Dam on Saturday (Photo: KDVR)

DENVER – Safety reviews of Colorado’s most hazardous dams are not being conducted fast enough, according to a state audit made public Monday.

The delays in reclassifying dams could “pose a risk to public safety” said the nonpartisan, independent report from the Colorado Office of the State Auditor (OSA), which called for “stronger controls and enforcement options” from the Division of Water Resources.

Despite the evaluator’s warnings, the Division of Water Resources reported that last fall’s record rainfall and flooding did not cause any “higher hazard” dams to fail. High hazard dams are those that could cause loss of human life if the dam were to fail.

September’s floods caused $5 million in damage to the dams, such as cracking, erosion and accumulation of debris, the report said.

Twenty-seven of the dams reviewed were not inspected by the Division at all during the 2012 “Water Year” (between Nov.1 and Oct. 31). Another 12 were inspected more than six months after their annual inspection due dates.

One standout from the review was the Droz Creek Dam in Chaffee County, which increased from a low to significant hazard rating after more than 14 years without a review.

The review also raised concerns about Emergency Action Plans, which should be reviewed each year, according to state regulations. However, the plans were 7.5 years old on average, and the oldest plan on file was 31 years old.

Additionally, 84 percent of the Emergency Action Plans were missing an important component, the report found.

The Division of Resources oversees 1,800 dams, of which 213 high-hazard dams were reviewed for the report.