100 high-hazard dams remain a risk across Utah, assistant state engineer says

Apr 23, 2024, 1:00 PM | Updated: 2:04 pm

Water releases are being conducted at Panguitch Lake dam in order to prevent a big crack from from ...

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources issued an emergency fishing closure at Panguitch Lake reservoir Wednesday over growing concerns about the dam's safety. Utah engineers also have made progress to dam repairs. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

SALT LAKE CITY — Weeks after a crack was discovered in the Panguitch Lake Dam, 100 high-hazard dams sit below the state’s minimum design standards. With the current rate of repairs, it could take a century to fix all of them.

According to the Assistant State Engineer of Dam Safety for the Utah Division of Water Rights, Everett Taylor, there are approximately 700 dams in Utah. 200 of them are managed by public oversight. 

Private companies and owners manage the rest, including the Panguitch Lake Dam. 

Taylor told KSL NewsRadio that about half of the high-hazard dams he monitors are not up to par.

“There are about 80 that are still waiting to be rehabilitated,” said Everett. “And about 20 that are in some phase of rehabilitation. So 100 overall.”

The potential danger of high-hazard dams

Taylor said the dams pose the highest level of risk to nearby communities.

“High-hazard, if they failed, [means a] high likelihood of loss of life,” said Everett. “Moderate-hazard, if they failed, [means a] high likelihood of significant property damage but no loss of life. And low-hazard is low property damage, no loss of life.”

However, these dams could remain below minimum specifications for a century. The State legislature provides $3.8 million in ongoing yearly funding. However, the average dam safety project costs $4.6 million, according to a 2023 Division of Water Resources presentation to the legislature.

The provided amount can only cover one project each year. 

“Every other or every third year,” said Everett, the legislature will “give us an additional portion of money so we can catch up and keep this rehabilitation program moving forward.”

Taylor said he wants Utahns to be aware of the risks associated with these dams. But, he also wants people to know that his team is keeping a close eye on possible dam weaknesses. He said the Panguitch Lake Dam is a “great example.”

“We worked with … everyone in the community to resolve the urgency of that,” said Everett. “And then [we’re] already looking to, ‘what’s the permanent fix? How do we go in and repair this, so the dam is ready for next year’s runoff water season?'”

Related: Panguitch City evacuation notice lifted as dam damage control continues

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100 high-hazard dams remain a risk across Utah, assistant state engineer says