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North Carolina Avoids Dam Failure This Time Around

The Walters Dam on the Pigeon River in Waterville.
The confluence of the Pigeon River and Big Creek in Waterville. The Walters Dam power plant is in the background.

Fourteen dams failed in South Carolina as a result of heavy storms in the region. North Carolina escaped that fate this time around.

Bridget Munger of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality says the state regulates more than 2,600 active dams. Many are classified as low- and intermediate-hazard levels, which means a failure could block road ways and cause thousands of dollars in damage. But nearly half of state regulated dams are considered high-hazard.

"If you get to a high-hazard classification, we're looking at potential loss of human life and economic damage that would be more than $200,000."

Munger says the hazard classification has no correlation with a dam's actual condition, and engineers regularly inspect dams within the state's jurisdiction.

Still, she says people living in flood plains below a dam should be vigilant as heavy storms approach.

"The first thing they should do is get in touch with their local emergency management agency and find out what procedures are in place in terms of notification. What, in the event of a dam failure, would happen? Should they evacuate? And if so, what are the steps to follow for that?"

Dam emergency action plans and inundation maps identifying property at risk are not public documents. So Munger recommends homeowners consult topographical and flood plain maps online to determine risks to their homes. She says the Department of Public Safety runs a site that's particularly helpful.

"That has an interactive search function where you can look up your home by address and gather a lot of information."

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