By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities Blog
I often blog about HOA problems with poorly constructed or maintained storm water systems. Most people don’t think about storm water drainage until it causes flooding or contamination of watershed areas. That’s because many components of a water flow control system are not readily visible: underground drain pipes, catch basins, swales incorporated into the landscape are some examples.
Dams and weirs are important water control components that may be visible, but most people are unaware of their critical function in preventing widespread flooding. In the US, thousands of lakes and ponds in subdivisions are man-made, and the water level is controlled by dams.
Proper construction of dams requires thoughtful engineering design and strict adherence to construction specifications. Older dams, including many in SC, were built from compacted earth or stones. More modern dams are made of concrete, wood timbers, or metal. But no matter what the materials, after years of use, dams begin to weaken or wear out. That’s the difficult reality thousands of South Carolinians now have to face.
Dams and their smaller cousins, weirs, require regular inspection by professional engineers and periodic maintenance to ensure they remain free from obstacles and debris, and strong enough to hold back massive volumes of water.
However, most private owners, including HOA boards, lack an engineering background, and are completely unaware of how to inspect and maintain their storm water control system, including man-made lakes, pond, dams and weirs.
County and state level inspectors are supposed to fill the obvious gaps, by conducting regular inspections of dams and providing written maintenance plans, repair recommendations, and safety code requirements to private owners.
In SC, as in many other states around the country, private HOAs are failing to maintain water control structures and state regulatory agencies are neglecting their duties.
Six Richland County dams broke, causing death and destruction in floods
Excerpts from the article: (my emphasis added)
Lori Spragens, executive director of the national Association of State Dam Safety Officials, said resources for inspecting the state’s dams remain low in South Carolina. All told, South Carolina has 2,300 dams, most of them privately owned and made of earth.
The Gills Creek dams were built over many decades, mostly by private developers. They are mostly owned and operated by homeowners’ associations. Some of the waterbasin’s larger dams failed this week, officials said.
In 2013, the [SC Department of Health and Environmental Control] gave South Carolina a 47 percent rating in state compliance with the group’s national model for dam safety. The national average was 76 percent, the organization said.
Jones said many of the state’s dams are aging structures that are “out-of-sight, out-of-mind.’’
Maintenance of dams through the years has often fallen on property owners’ associations, whose leaders have changed hands. As a result, experts say those property owners officials don’t always realize the responsibility that comes with maintaining their neighborhoods’ dams.
And I feel compelled to point out the irony:
For 50 years, cities and counties hungry for tax revenue bought the empty promises of developers that private HOA communities would pay for and maintain their own infrastructure.
See how well that is working out?
It will now cost SC (and other states) millions to correct deferred maintenance and repair damage done over the decades. State and local governments will hand off as much of the cost to property owners as they can. But, let’s face it, most owners in these communities cannot afford costly repair of dams.
There are only two options. One option is to permanently breach some dams and drain or reduce the water level of lakes, adversely affecting property values for adjacent homeowners. The second option is to spread out the cost of repair to all taxpayers, which will probably require SC to incur debt, even if grant funding is available to defray part of the cost.
In the end, it will likely cost more money to pick up the pieces than it would have to simply build the dams right and maintain them all along.