Safety of Central Texas dams kept a secret

FILE - Longhorn Dam (KXAN File Photo)
FILE - Longhorn Dam (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The safety of a dam — or lack of safety — is kept secret. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, both federal and state federal government made information about dams, and other critical infrastructure, off limits.

As about 200,000 people have been evacuated in northern California for fear a dam’s failure, here’s what we do know about Central Texas dams.

Austin Energy operates Longhorn and the Decker Dams. Monday, the utility told us neither has any structural issues. It made repairs to Longhorn’s gates and lift system in 2014. Austin Energy tells us inspections are every five years, most recently in December 2015.

LCRA operates six dams along the lower Colorado River, telling us it does frequent inspections. Right now it’s modernizing floodgates on the two biggest dams along the Highland Lakes, Mansfield and Buchanan.

LCRA says none of dams along the Highland Lakes have spillways that resemble the spillway at issue in Oroville, California.

Austin Energy says during heavy rains it works closely with LCRA to manage the water being released.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the federal government has blocked KXAN’s access to dam inspection records and hazard-class data. The government cited statutes that say the release of certain information related to dams could undermine national security.

Nevertheless, there is an online repository of dam information called the National Performance of Dams Program, which is administered by Stanford University. The database includes information, such as hazard class, for every major dam in the U.S., as well as historic dam failure information. The database is searchable by location, dam type, hazard class and size, among other things.

In May 2015, a century-old dam in Bastrop State Park burst, sending 35 million gallons of water down a creek.

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