SCIENCE + TECHNOLOGY

More than 80 dams around the state are in need of costly repairs

Jun 14, 2023, 7:30 PM | Updated: 7:42 pm

Utah capitol -- Utah lawmakers are tackling the high costs of adoption, proposing changes that coul...

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SALT LAKE CITY — More than 80 dams around the state are currently in need of repair. The problem, however, is the repairs will cost more than $400 million.

Currently, there are roughly 6,500 dams around the state. Of those dams, 81 are considered to be high hazard. High hazard means the failure of the dam would result in the loss of life. 

Matt Call, a safety engineer for the Utah Division of Water Rights, says dams and their ability to function properly are important to Utah’s water supply. 

“Our water comes in the form of snow and through the winter it builds up, is stored in the mountains and then as that runs off we need to store that to continue to use it throughout the remainder of the year just because of Utah being the second-driest state in the nation.”

The cost to fix dams around the state

The state engineer’s office reports that it will take $450 million to repair the high-hazard dams around the state.

Additionally, the Division of Water Rights says, based on current funding, it will take 120 years to repair every high hazard dam in the state, and that’s if development near the moderate hazard dams comes to a stop. 

“A lot of those dams age out,” Call said. “They get very old. They don’t meet the minimum standards of what we consider of being a safe dam, currently.”

Teresa Wilmensen, state engineer and director for the Division of Water Rights, told a subcommittee that a failure of a dam could have disastrous results.

“Down at the end of the spillway for Joe’s Valley and at that point to the point of Orangeville,” she said. “Thirty-minute response time, if that dam fails.”

The subcommittee calls the number of dams that need to be repaired to be sobering.

Call says knowledge and methods of building dams only improve over time. He says the best way to ensure everyone’s safety is to do the costly upgrades. 

Mark Jones contributed to this article.

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More than 80 dams around the state are in need of costly repairs