May – June, 2020: Michigan Flooding
In mid-May, seven inches of rain created a chain of catastrophic events. The rainstorm caused more than 10,000 people to evacuate, damaged property and homes, and destroyed two hydroelectric dams.
Moisture created by Tropical Storm Arthur produced the heaviest rainfall. Moisture traveled from the East Coast to Michigan causing an increase in rainfall over other areas. The heaviest rainfalls in Michigan received up to 8 inches of rain causing many road closures. Areas around the Tittabawassee River were warned of severe flooding as the Sanford Dam opened its gates due to higher water levels.
On May 19, 2020, the Edenville dam began to fail. The Edenville Township residents were forced to evacuate to emergency shelters because of imminent Edendville Dam failure. Although the Midland County Emergency Management had determined that the Edenville and Sandford dams were structurally sound, they would not be able to contain or control the amount of water flowing through the spill gates.
Eventually, a section of the Edenville Dam dike collapsed due to the overflowing river. The National Weather Service announced flash flood warnings downstream along the Tittabawassee River where the Sanford Dam is located, 7 miles from Edenville Dam. The water began filling the Sanford Lake and flowing over the Sanford Dam.
An emergency declaration was issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday, May 19th. The National Guard helped residents to evacuation zones as the Tittabawassee River crested to around 35 feet. The Sanford Dam remained stronger than the Edenville Dam, but still received damage from the floodwaters. A hole at the dam’s brim had formed and caused water to flow freely from the lake.
Not Just Structural Failure
An investigation in the failed Edenville Dam reported that in 2018 the dam’s operator had their license revoked by federal energy regulators due to a concern over the spillway. The Federal Energy Regulation Commission (FERC) had records showing the spillway was cited as being problematic since the 1990s.
By the end of the week, residents were slowly allowed to return home dependent upon the damage and flood conditions. Cleanup has begun and President Trump approved the emergency declaration on May 21st with Federal supplements to state and local responses.
Forensic Engineering Specialists
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