Rebuilding broken Bastrop dam to take years, cost millions

(Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management)

BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — The process of designing and rebuilding the damaged Bastrop State Park Lake dam has started, but it will cost millions of dollars and take years before it’s finished.

In a May 2015 disaster, the nearly 100-year-old dam buckled under the pressure of excessive floodwaters. The 10-acre lake dam drained out, barreled down a creek bed and damaged a road.

Hazard Class and Inspections
The National Inventory of Dams defines the following hazard classes for dams:

1) High hazard classification – loss of one human life is likely if the dam fails
2) Significant hazard classification – possible loss of human life and likely significant property or environmental destruction, if dam fails
3) Low hazard classification – failure or mis-operation would result in no probable loss of life and low economic impact
Source: NID, US Army Corp of Engineers

Though nobody was injured, the breach underscored safety issues posed by dams in Texas. Floods are common in the state and, aside from the Bastrop State Park dam, thousands of small and aging earthen impoundments are not regularly inspected. The National Inventory of Dams catalogs more than 7,300 dams in Texas, and the majority of those (5,443) have low hazard potential. A Texas Commission on Environmental Quality expert previously told KXAN the state focuses its dam inspections on “high” and “significant” hazard potential dams, and it does not typically inspect low hazard dams.

Lately, the nation’s focus has turned to the Oroville Dam in Northern California. It’s the tallest impoundment in the U.S. and nearly experienced a catastrophic failure earlier this month.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is in charge of the Bastrop State Park Lake and dam. TPWD has requested $4.2 million to rebuild the dam. If approved, the department intends to begin construction in 2018 or 2019, said spokesperson Stephanie Salinas.

The Bastrop State Park Lake “has been the heart of cherished memories for park visitors since the park’s inception,” Salinas said. TPWD “is working diligently to bring back this iconic lake as soon as possible.”

The reconstruction of the dam is currently in the design phase, and the plans and costs are still being studied. Project timelines have not been finalized, Salinas said.

TPWD will cooperate on the project with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, U.S. Corp. of Engineers, Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Texas Historical Commission

The dam will be reconstructed to pre-disaster condition and current state standards. The design and permitting phase will hopefully be completed by 2018. In 2016-2017, TPWD budgeted $900,000 for planning and design, she said.

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