Originally created 08/14/04

Owners of dams are put on alert



AIKEN - The deluge of rain from Tropical Storm Bonnie and Hurricane Charley has to go somewhere.

And it will no doubt increase water levels in the many ponds that dot Aiken County and South Carolina. That's why officials from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control have warned dam owners to pay attention.

"At the present time, a person's dam should be ready and able to stand something like this," said Steve Bradley, a member of DHEC's dam safety program. "This is something that needs to be taken care of before a time like this comes."

The responsibility of keeping spillways or drains free from debris lies with the property owner, though the agency patrols some that are considered a threat. Waterways that overflow could cause flooding and damage to people downstream, officials warn.

Some estimates show South Carolina with more than 50,000 dams that control the flow of water in ponds, streams and lakes.

But of those, the agency regulates only about 2,400. And it typically does so only at the request of a property owner. Out of that total, 600 dams would be considered a threat to human life or property if they gave way, Mr. Bradley said. Those dams are inspected on a regular basis.

There were no reports of flash flooding through early Friday night.

Aiken County wasn't hit particularly hard by Bonnie, which dumped 1 to 3 inches of rain on the area Thursday. And even if Charley does soak the area, many ponds will welcome the water.

"A lot of our ponds are down 3 or 4 inches," said Joe Berry, the chief engineer for Aiken County.

Still, Mr. Bradley warned that tropical storms and hurricanes off the coast can drop enormous amounts of water in a hurry. Most problems occur when drains aren't cleared or when earthen dams aren't properly fortified and erode, he said.

Langley Pond, one of Aiken County's largest, off U.S. Highway 1, is equipped with two spillways and is prepared for heavy rains, said Brian Sanders, the director of Aiken County Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

"Hurricane Charley really doesn't affect our operations at all," Mr. Sanders said. "If there was severe weather, we would close facilities and try to protect them in the best way that we know how."

Staff Writer Karen Ethridge contributed to this article.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.

Water Watch

Only 2,400 of the more than 50,000 dams in South Carolina are regulated by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control. State officials are asking dam owners to pay attention to their dam's water levels as Hurricane Charley passes through.

Source: South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control