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Michigan dam-breaks show the danger of aging infrastructure in a warming climate

You may have seen some videos and photos of flooding in northeastern Michigan over the last couple of days. Heavy rain there caused two dams to fail, raising water levels downstream by as much as 9 feet and causing 10,000 residents to evacuate. One of the dams had been declared unsafe by inspectors in 2018 in part because it was under-designed to hold extreme rainfall. When record-setting rain hit the Midland MI area a few days ago, the reservoir behind the dam grew and put pressure on the earthen dam to the point where it failed. The wall of water that was created barreled downstream and caused a second dam to fail. You can read more about it at Weather Underground here.

As I pointed out in my blog post yesterday, the warming climate is causing heavy rain to come more frequently and with higher intensity than in the past in some places, including the Great Lakes Region. That means that even modern infrastructure in good repair may not be able to withstand the impacts of all that rain. If the infrastructure is old and not well maintained, it is even more likely to fail, as these dams did. Sadly, very few of the people downstream had flood insurance and so most likely lost everything in the deluge, although I am sure there will be lawsuits coming in the future. Do you know where the floodplains are in your area? Don’t be caught unaware, and do buy flood insurance now, before it is needed (it takes 30 days to come into effect, so you can’t wait until you see the tropical storm on the horizon to purchase it).

Midland MI dam break May 2020. Source: Photo: Screenshot Of Video By Ryan Kaleto