By Bryony Wardell
On March 12, 2016, more than 100 South Carolina dam owners passed up a sunshine-filled day to get together with safety and regulation experts to talk about dams after the flood. Dams After The Flood: Regulations, Responsibilities and Recovery was a community event hosted by S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and its partners to help connect dam owners to information and people who can help them move towards recovery.
As the state’s regulatory agency, DHEC’s role is to provide input and assistance to dam owners and operators and to advise them on regulatory compliance. Dam owners are responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of their dams. The agency doesn’t provide engineering services, but it does provide compliance assistance.
Since the historic flooding of October 2015, many dam owners in South Carolina have been facing unique and lasting challenges. For many, the challenges have been overwhelming – for some, the first time they were even aware they owned a dam was after it was impacted.
A DHEC staff member helps attendees locate their dam on the new Watershed Atlas.
Network of Knowledge
The event was an important step towards recovery and building capacity for community resilience for future natural disasters. It introduced dam owners to information and people – including each other – who can help create a network of knowledge.
DHEC Environmental Affairs Director Myra Reece talking with dam owners.
“Response is one thing, but recovery is by far the hardest and longest phase of a disaster. Let’s figure this out together,” said DHEC Director of Environmental Affairs Myra Reece. “This is a kick-off and it’s the start of a collaborative coalition of dam owners, dam safety experts, engineers and other partners who can work together to form pathways to solutions.”
The event included presentations from DHEC’s dam program staff on regulations, safety, inspections, maintenance and damage recovery. Click here to download the presentation. It also included a Q&A session, information booths and one-on-one networking for dam owners with a variety of event partner organizations.
Event partners included: American Rivers, Association of State Dam Safety Officials, Gills Creek Watershed Association, Natural Resources Conservation Service, S.C. Department of Natural Resources, S.C. Department of Transportation, S.C. Emergency Management Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as consultants and contractors.
Overcoming the Overwhelming
“This needed to be done. It was very helpful. It put people’s minds at ease a bit to know that DHEC is here to listen, to hear our questions, our frustrations, to talk and to work together,” said Donnie Hallman, a dam owner from Gilbert. “It gives us a way to share information and it takes the fear factor out of the situation.”
Event organizers kept the formal presentations brief to allow attendees ample time to visit information booths, ask questions about their unique situations and meet neighbors who own dams up- or downstream in their watershed. Color-coded name badges were provided to help attendees identify fellow dam owners in their watershed and start their own local networks.
“We want to make sure people have the information and time they need to make important decisions about their dams,” said John Litton, DHEC Dam Program director. “We are going to work with you on the unique problems you each are facing.”
For more information about the event, contact Shelly Wilson at Wilsonmd@dhec.sc.gov or (803) 898-3138 or visit www.scdhec.gov/environment/WaterQuality/DamsReservoirs.