Feds closer to fixing issues that made Lewisville Lake dam a riskNovember 25, 2016
BY JEFF MOSIER
Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers said approval is moving forward without any obvious obstacles. Public awareness of this project grew a year ago following a Dallas Morning News story about a 2015 scare. Last year, corps staffers discovered a sand boil — a swirling whirlpool outside the dam — that could have led to the dam’s failure, but did not.
The corps is working to get this project into the 2019 federal budget. But officials hope they can get some of the $100 million to $200 million in funding a year earlier. The project is expected to be completed in 2023 or 2024.
Just as important, corps officials continue to emphasize that the dam is “currently functioning as designed, and the probability of failure is remote.”
Gray said the goal is make the risk as close to zero as possible because of the consequences of failure.
The corps has estimated that dam failure would put 431,000 people in harm’s way and cover downtown Dallas in about 50 feet of water.
Sana Syed, a city spokeswoman, said Dallas officials have been “coordinating with the corps and believe the proposed repairs will address the identified potential failure modes of the dam.”
She said the city’s Office of Emergency Management has a copy of the dam’s emergency action plan and meets regularly with corps staff to discuss the safety of the Lewisville Lake dam as well as others in the region.
“We’ve got a real problem here, and it affects not me, but many thousands of people who live downstream,” said U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville. “It did get their attention.”
Burgess said the corps believes the dam is safe and he has “no reason to dispute them on that.”
“I’ve lived in the area my entire life,” he said. “I was there when that dam was created, so I’m well aware of how old it is. As I’ve told people before, some of us over 60 years old need a little work from time to time.”
Always in repair
The dam has received major repairs in almost every decade since it opened.
Gray said publicity about the May 2015 incident with the sand boil brought far more attention than is usually paid to the dam. Like most dams, it’s just part of the background until something goes wrong.
The dam safety project was already underway when news of that incident was publicized about a year ago. Earlier reports pointed out concerns about “uncontrolled seepage” through the foundation.
Extensive approval process
The extensive approval process has included an environmental review, public comments, peer review by outside experts and, eventually, cost certification analyses from regional and Washington corps staffers.
The project plans — which include new spillway anchors, berms and better monitoring of seepage under the dam — should be finished by February, in time for the financial review. The deadline to submit the plans for inclusion in the corps budget is June 1.
Corps officials announced in April that the project would be expedited and potentially start two years early. Gray said the Lewisville Lake dam headlines haven’t affected the process, though.
“Quite honestly, the public awareness did not change our process at all. It didn’t affect our funding,” Gray said. “If anything changed, it was the education of the public.”
Repairs to an unrelated 160-foot landslide were completed this fall at the dam. Corps officials said that did not affect the dam’s structural integrity. The slide was blamed on the heavy rains in the spring of 2015 and cost the corps $8.8 million to fix.
Attention to drilling
The dam also received additional attention from an effort this year to lease a portion of the lake for gas drilling.
Industry representatives said that the drilling site wasn’t close to the dam and that there were other wells on private land close to the lake. Still, there was plenty of opposition based on several concerns, including how drilling might affect the dam.
That bid to auction drilling rights fell through after it was discovered that the approval of several local cities was needed. Some of those cities had already publicly opposed the leasing plan.
Local corps officials said there’s no hint the presidential transition in Washington will affect the dam project. They said past transitions haven’t created barriers or slowed work.
While the project still must maneuver through Washington’s bureaucracy, politics seems unlikely to stall the effort. The safety upgrades have the bipartisan backing of prominent lawmakers, including Burgess and Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, and Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.
“This is not a new start,” Burgess said about the repairs. “This has been in the budget, and I expect it to remain in the budget.”