Monday, July 7, 2014
Dangerous Old Dams On The Columbia River In Need of Care--Potential cascading effects damaging many of the dams on the river system.
Federal Homeland Security Agency Identifies Northwest Dams on Columbia River as Potential Mega-Catastrophe Lex Contributor Network . Forget major earthquakes being the only cause for mega-catastrophe in the North West. Sure, If the Cascadia quake prediction does come true it will cause a massive catastrophe. Volcanos like Mt Hood and Mt Rainer are also rated as major hazard zones because of large populations living around them. Both of those volcano's are rated as some of the more dangerous on earth only due to the adjacent populations. The Dams on the Columbia River going all up river into Canada are now also on the list of potential major catastrophic concerns because most of the giant dams were built before the 1940s and are examples of aging infrastructure that might be getting beyond basic maintenance considerations. The Army Corp of Engineers and the Bonneville Power Administration , among other related agencies are quiet about everything from geological subsidence of some of the dams since they were built to major repairs and replacement that maybe required for their renewal and longevity. How Long are massive concrete dams supposed to last? If the average dam on the Columbia River was say built in 1945, the average age is 55 years. The average bridge built 55 years ago might not be in the best of shape. The average skyscraper built 55 years ago might already have been remodeled or retrofitted. The average home built 55 years ago probably is past needing a new roof, new carpets, a new kitchen, new bathrooms and probably a paint job too . Maintenance is key only to the extent of the longevity of the asset. Certainly the dams have been maintained but a lot of things can change in 50 years. There is obviously concern for the Department of Homeland Security to list dam failures on the Columbia River as at risk or highly at risk as to cause a multi-hundred billion dollar disaster because of the added effect of cascading effect where a damn higher up river like the Grand Coulée in Washington State could be the first to fail wiping out successive dams down river. Not all are weakened by age. One has to wonder since we see concrete viaducts in places like Portland, Oregon built about the same time as the dams in such bad state of repair/ existence that they have to be torn down and replaced. The one viaduct in Portland might have been built of a similar concrete product about the same time as the dam. Of course the viaduct was never engineered to hold back the force of billions of gallons of reservoir water but seeing that the viaduct did not last fifty years and was in such bad shape because the concrete was turning to dust can make one wonder. Re bar in dam concrete structures might even be rusted though. The assumption is that most dams have been cored to check the state of the structure over the years and test the concrete. Then there is newer satellite , GPS and topographic mapping satellites that show conclusively that dams have subsided or have become slightly deformed since they were originally built and one has to accept the fact that the entire condition of the structures cannot be known. A Trillion dollar stimulus package came and went without a dime going to test, check, recheck ,repair or replace any of the aging dams on the Columbia River! Had government invested a trillion dollars nation wide in dealing with aging dams they probably could have lowered the prediction risks of failure significantly. That is not how government works. Just as in New Orleans after Katrina or after the PB oil spill, government waits till the disaster has happened before spending the money. A trillion dollars disappeared recently and we still have this dire easement of risk of a major catastrophe on the Columbia River. The danger of the cascading effect of dams on the Columbia River starts with a big up river giant like the Grand Coulée compromised by say an earthquake because the structure has been "stressed" for over 40 years and because the army corp and Bonneville power administration are secretly aware of its deformation over time. Not wanting to get the public excited by the extreme risks these agencies keep it a secret except from the homeland security agency. I once called and asked about dam deformation and first the receptionist at the Army Core told me that there was some satellite data but the dam was still prefect . I asked more questions and he told me I was unqualified to ask those questions . I continued asking questions and he hung up on me. Now the cat is out of the bag with the multi hundred billion dollars of damages mega-catastrophe designation by Homeland Security / FEMA but the exact specific reasons for possible failures are not cited. To Make things worse they have the Cascading failures of one dam after another down stream in this assessment. I called the army corp to ask after that agency admitted it knew in advance, from satellite data, that New Orleans levees had subsided to dangerous levels but instead of fixing them before Katrina happened they were busy building a glorious new regional office building for their prestige as government employees and planing bike paths on failing levies in the area. The Army Corp had set up an accident waiting to happen before Katrina and were aware of it long in advance. After Katrina the Army Corp of engineers became one of the first federal agencies we ever saw having to pay for damage caused by their actions. Still no one got fired and the same people are still running the show down there. The same problem is here in the northwest. Big money is getting spent for patronage purposes but little of it goes to necessities as per the trillion dollar stimulus program that came and went with most of the money presumably spent already. It is time for people living down in the flood plains of The Columbia River, which covers a vast area including much of the lower elevation land in Portland Oregon including the international airport, to start asking questions of the people in charge about the actual state of the dams. The people don't just need to know what the condition is that this risk assessment exists but what the cost is to add a little risk prevention insurance to the equation. The Local media is not concerned everything is glorious and final about the way the dams are except if there is some hysteria about wild salmon and the dams. The major media should be publishing the whole cascading risk assessment but it is no where to be seen and the risk level of each dam does not seem to be published for public viewing either! The scour effect of a cascading failure of dams down river from an elevation like the Grand Coulée could leave millions dead and less than a stone age civilization down river. Are the stated risks due to a mild or great earthquake or none at all? One would think that because this is the United States that the full report on risk assessment would be made public. Maybe it has? Or maybe it takes a freedom of information act request? Even if a public assessment has been published it may not contain all the technical concerns. It might not even discuss fears they have about deformation and displacement and or material failure such as ex-foliation, rust, scour and reservoir back fill that may impart added forces on structures. What level of force of a dam failure would cause this cascading effect of failures? would it have to be full failure or just a partial failure? The next questions are about cost of repairs, renewals and rebuilding of dams if necessary with a cost benefit analysis that might actually show that new high computer power, cheap computer power engineering, can radically increase the power supply on tap. One might suspect that a brand new dam might be designed to give the electrical grid 20-30 percent more energy just because these original dams were designed with slide rules not with todays powerful computer. New dams being built elsewhere in the world seem to have added efficiency and experience over the years , 50 years of dam building, have improved the knowledge base. This whole cascading failure scenario for a mega catastrophe is something to legitimately worry about once the public knows the threshold forces required to cause the first failure in a chain reaction anywhere along the river system of dams. We are all in the dark. Our local senators and representatives seem unconcerned which should seem strange now that the risk assessment seems so dire. With all the local concern about green energy there is no conversation what so ever about the risk concern by the feds of a cascading failure of dams. After watching the preventable Katrina disaster unfold this clue that something may be amiss with the state of the dams now requires more public research. Are we looking at a trillion dollars or more to fix the problem? Is there really a problem? The feds seem to think so. .