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  • Dam Problems: A National Concern

    Dams. They’re everywhere! According to National Geographic, there are about 90,000 dams in the United States. And, just like people, they age. And when they age, they start falling apart.

    Recent news has been inundated with California’s Oroville Dam and the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people that took place over the weekend due to a failing spillway. If the Oroville Dam’s spillway were to fail, the results would be catastrophic. And, just this past weekend, we’ve seen that such a failure is very plausible.

    So what about the thousands of other dams across the nation?

    Herein lies the problem. Many of the dams dotting the countryside were constructed as low-hazard dams, put in place to protect agricultural land; land that was, at that time, undeveloped. Now, however, cities have since expanded and the formerly undeveloped land is now the home to thousands (if not millions). In fact, Oroville (for which the dam is named) has practically doubled in size since the dam was constructed.

     

    Oroville Dam spillway - by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources Heavy water flow at the Oroville Dam spillway - Photo by Florence Low, California Department of Water Resources

     

    How Old is Old?

    Dams don’t seem to age as well as people (so consider yourself lucky you were born a human and not a dam), but despite that flaw, they can still live for quite some time, albeit a little fragile. Only 4.5% of all U.S. dams were built since the year 2000 (4,000 dams). The oldest, however, were built before 1900 (2.8%). Most, however, were built between 1950 and 1980. And those are the ones considered old.

    The average age is 52, according to USA Today. Getting up there in age, but not quite ready for retirement. Perhaps we could squeeze just a few more years of work out of them… Still, because of how dams age,

    The problem with keeping these dams in operation is that nearly 15,500 dams are high-hazard. That means if these dams were to break, at least one person would be killed, but many more would be likely (the term “high-hazard” actually has no relation to the dam’s actual condition). Add that to the fact that “nearly 1 in 5 lack an emergency action plan,” and countless people are living in very dangerous conditions – most likely without even knowing it!

    USA Today reported that only three states – Louisiana, Maine, and Tennessee – have emergency plans in place for all high-hazard dams. It would appear that everywhere else is, well…hosed.

    Fortunately, there are ways to prepare. If we look at the Oroville Dam evacuation, there are some important lessons to be learned that will help you be safe should you be faced with a similar predicament.

     

    1. Get an Emergency Kit

    Emergency kits are life savers in a very literal sense. They have the gear and supplier you need to survive an emergency, and should contain enough to last you for at least three days. Kits should contain gear for warmth, communication, light, and other essentials. Food and water is also important.

     

    1. A Full Tank

    If you have a car, truck, or other similar mode of transportation (which most people do these days), keep your gas tank at least half full at all times. During the Oroville Dam evacuation, many people were stranded on the road because of gridlock, their vehicles out of fuel because they couldn’t get to a gas station to fill up. Also, many gas stations shut down due to lack of fuel, causing more problems for motorists.

     

    1. A Place to Stay

    Many evacuees were without a home, forced to dwell in shelters, churches, and anywhere else they could find a roof. The no vacancy lights on the surrounding hotels, inns, and other temporary housing units lit up almost instantaneously following the evacuation order.

    In a different scenario, perhaps you won’t even be able to find shelter? Maybe everything will already be full? What then? That’s where a shelter comes in. A tent, a tarp…anything you can use to protect yourself from the elements can be quite handy when you have no place to go. Prepare now for the worst, and the worst will be better than expected.

     

     

    All in all, disasters can happen anywhere and at any time. There is always something. Nobody is immune. That’s why preparing for the future is vital. Take some time today – while the metaphorical sun shines – to get your emergency prep together. Make sure you have everything you need for yourself and your family. If you’re missing things, don’t delay; make time to acquire those items.

    Because when the next disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you did.

     

    Written by Steven M.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Dam

  • Avoiding a Royal Flush: Recent Water Shortages in Areas Just Like Yours

    During the Super Bowl, water conservation efforts in Macomb County, Mich., kept crappers from coming a cropper. (OR helped a broken sewer pipe avoid a royal dump. OR prevented a royal flush that could have further damaged a broken sewer pipe and sinkhole.)

    Sinkhole - via AP water shortage Good news: flushing toilets didn't make the sinkhole worse - via AP

    On February 2, the county public works chief warned that halftime flushing during the Super Bowl could overwhelm a broken 11-foot-wide sewer pipe and send sewage into neighborhood basements. The broken line had already created a 250-foot by 100-foot sinkhole that ate three homes. But she said on February 6 that actions like people flushing less (when they did, would that be a royal flush?) and restaurants serving food on paper plates prevented the disaster.

    At any time, you might have to reduce water use or use bottled water. The same week Macomb County public works officials worried about sewer overflow, water managers in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Chapel Hill, N.C., told residents to boil or avoid tap water.

    In Pittsburgh on January 31, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority issued a boil water advisory for 100,000 customers, including schools, restaurants and hospitals. Tests of the city’s water supply showed there wasn’t enough chlorine in the water at a treatment plant. The advisory ended February 2.

    In Chapel Hill, a broken water main February 2 immediately followed by a water treatment plant shutdown February 3 caused the boil water notice and, later, a water shortage.  Students at the University of North Carolina and businesses around the school were most affected. A basketball game between UNC and Notre Dame had to be postponed and moved. The school canceled classes the afternoon of February 3. Although the boil water notice ended February 5, Orange County, N.C. officials asked people to keep conserving water because the broken pipe caused a water shortage.

    Ready.gov says a person needs an average of a gallon of water per day. Here are three ways to make sure you’ve got clean water handy when you need it.

    First, assume you won’t be able to buy water. The water emergency in Chapel Hill lasted two days. Residents could still use tap water for many things. Trucks could easily resupply stores. Yet stores reported runs on water and empty shelves.

    Ready.gov recommendsMan_Standing_Updated water shortage you store a gallon of water per person per day for three days.  Commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable water for storage, according to ready.gov. It’s easy to store and lasts longer than home-bottled water. Just don’t open it and be aware of the expiration dates on the bottles. Food-grade water storage containers are also available here. When filling them, if your water comes from a well or if your utility doesn’t treat water with chlorine, add two drops of non-scented liquid chlorine bleach to each gallon of water. Check the water after a half hour. If it doesn’t have a slight bleach smell, re-treat it and wait 15 minutes. Ready.gov recommends you replace home-bottled water every six months.

    Second, think about all the ways you use water – like washing dishes – and plan substitutes.

    In Macomb County, Mich., some restaurants used paper plates on Super Bowl Sunday to reduce their water use.

    Do you have enough disposable dishes on hand that you could minimize dish washing for a few days? Even reusable water bottles should be washed daily.

    Third, be prepared for long-term water shortages. Consider buying a water filter for your home or water taps.

    After three years of lead-laced water in Flint, Mich., the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality finally found that lead concentrations in Flint tap water were below the federal limit. The DEQ didn’t recommend Flint residents start using unfiltered tap water, though. As pipes get replaced and flushed throughout the city, lead concentration could spike in individual homes.

    If you’re considering a home water filter, first think about why you want one, suggests the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main function of the activated carbon filters found in fridges and pitchers is to change the water’s taste. They may not fully protect against contaminants. If a test to your water system shows organic contaminants, you may want a full-house or point-of-entry filter system so you can use the water for bathing and cleaning as well as cooking and drinking.

    Second, all water filters should be NSF-certified. NSF-certified filters can remove lead. Check the labels on filters, because no water filter removes everything. Consider things like cost of the filter system, how much filtered water you need and how a system might fit into your home.

    Third, maintain your filters. Change them on schedule.

    “Filters that are not well maintained can do more harm than good,” the CDC wrote.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner water shortage

  • Oroville Dam Emergency Evacuates 188,000 People

    Oroville Dam Spillway - via Metabunk The progression of the spillway's damage after one night - via Metabunk

    You may have heard of the Oroville Dam, California’s second-largest reservoir, that's about to break and flood the entire state of California (take that, drought!). Well, those reports may be a tad over exaggerated. No, the Oroville Dam is not going to break.

    The emergency spillway, however, may fail.

     

    The Spillway Spilled

    Apparently there's a big, gaping hole in the emergency spillway which could continue to erode, thus causing the water to go off the side. That will cause a much faster erosion, opening up more room for damage and heavy flooding.

    70 Miles Downstream in Sacramento - via Metabunk Oroville Dam 70 Miles downriver in Sacramento - via Metabunk

    As the spillway continues to release the kraken dam lake water, flooding is inevitable. To make things worse, flooding downriver has already begun. The image to the right shows what the water levels were like in Sacramento on Sunday. Levels certainly are high with flooding already happening, but Monday and Tuesday are expected to be rainless and dry, which will help the situation. However, there is another round of rain expected later on in the week which could last for several days.

    At the time of this writing, however, things have calmed down, as Lake Oroville water levels have dropped past 901 feet, which is the level when the lake water spills into the spillway. But all is not completely peachy at the spillway. According to the Sacramento Bee, severe damage is expected to have occurred on the main spillway from water releasing so quickly.

     

    Gridlocked and Gasless

    Gas Station Backup - via Sacramento Bee Oroville Dam Queue for gas as residents evacuate - via Sacramento Bee

    At least 188,000 people were evacuated downriver from the Oroville Dam. As you might think, the order to evacuate caused a bit of panic, which, in turn, resulted in a gridlock on Sunday night. Some people were stuck in their cars on the side of the road, their gas indicator on red. Gas stations along the evacuation route had shut off the pumps, all out of gas. Fuel was certainly difficult to come by. An easy fix to this is to always keep your vehicle filled to at least half a tank. That way, if you are forced to evacuate without much warning (indeed, these people only had about an hour’s notice), you can at least get past the high-traffic areas until you find a less congested gas station to fill up at.

     

    Nowhere to Sleep

    With the mass exodus that ensued following the flood threat, hotels in Sacramento and a nearby county filled up fast. What would you do if you couldn’t find a place to stay? By having some form of emergency shelter (i.e. a tent), you could at least find a nice patch of grass on which to camp out (uphill from the flood threat, of course). If you already have a tent, this impromptu campout is a less-expensive alternative to hunting down a vacant hotel room (bonus: camping is fun!).

     

    At the time of this writing, the situation is improving, but with more rain on the horizon, the threat level could rise once again. Emergencies can happen to anyone in any location. The Oroville Dam incident is specific to a few hundred thousand people, yes, but other unforeseen disasters could threaten your area without a moment’s notice. Use today to be prepared for tomorrow, and get your emergency gear together as soon as you can.

     

    Written by Steven M.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Oroville Dam

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