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Repairs may be dam expensive

Staff writer

Repair of a washed-out area above the so-called stilling pool at the county lake could cost millions of dollars.

State authorities have declined to grant a permit for the minimal work the county planned. Instead, citing years of inaction on previous advice, the state is holding out for more extensive repair.

The stilling pond is across the dam from a standpipe that contains a flood gate.

Commissioners had planned to repair eroded areas on the outside of the dam.

They got that unhappy news during a video conference last week when they spoke with Kansas Division of Water Resources dam safety program manager Terry Medley, dam safety team leader Ambrose Ketter, water structures engineers Zack Rust and Leonard Bristow, and US Army Corps of Engineers regulatory specialist Lee Wolf.

State authorities say they have been warning the county about a problem since the 1980s, and a retired lake superintendent agrees.

A standpipe, built when the dam was constructed in the late 1930s, releases excess water through an overflow channel beneath the lake surface.

The water runs through the channel to a stilling pool opposite the dam.

The channel’s exit is below the top of the stilling pool.

The state wants the stilling pool made deeper so the channel outflow is above the stilling pool surface.

The state also wants a creek that runs from the stilling pool toward a bridge cleaned out so water passes under the bridge instead of pooling against rocks and debris at the base of the bridge.

Work would cost far more than the $83,900 commissioners planned for repair of washed-out areas.

During a June 2021 storm, water ran over the lake’s low-water bridge, then over its spillway, causing six large washouts along the side of the dam and above the stilling pool.

Water that goes through the channel flows onto agricultural property owned by Rebecca Summerville.

A “dam” of rocks and debris obstructs flow on the Summerville land. The state wants the rock formation and trees removed.

“What if the landowner tells us, ‘No, we can’t remove it?’” commissioner Randy Dallke asked. “We’ve had a good relationship with them and we want to keep it that way.”

After the 2021 storm, the dam was inspected by an engineer and the county’s emergency manager. Three plans were presented. Commissioners chose to have minimum repairs made.

In the two years since the county opted merely to repair the eroded areas without addressing the cause, the state has not issued a permit for the work.

State officials took a hard line Thursday, saying they wouldn’t issue a permit unless it was on the state’s terms — that all the work the state wants will be done.

Commissioners were told the state had been “trying to get this addressed for years.”

The officials said they didn’t want to “strong-arm” commissioners, but also said there were legal avenues the state could take.

At the same time, they said they didn’t want to spend millions on a lawsuit.

Asked by commissioner Kent Becker whether money might be available for the work, state officials would not name any grant sources.

Commissioners asked that a permit for erosion repair be issued so the county could work on what it considers the immediate needs.

Becker suggested a permit might include an extended timeline so the county could fix the eroded areas before figuring out how to get other problems fixed.

The lake’s standpipe tower and the floodgate have not worked properly for years.

Dale Snelling, lake superintendent from 1965 to 2006, said a shaft that opens the gate to the spillway had been broken for years.

Snelling said he had the dam inspected regularly by an engineer.

“When you have life behind the dam, and you need to really be set up and have that inspected at least every five years,” Snelling said.

Even at that time, he said, commissioners were reluctant to spend money to have work done.

Years ago, during a hard freeze at the lake, a large ice jam hit the tower.

“This ice jam, it put a crack in the tower,” Snelling said.

After holes were cut in the tower to allow drainage even if valves were not manually opened, state inspectors wanted it repaired.

“In my time, they said you really ought to fix the hole in the tower,” Snelling said.

Water did not drain properly, and debris built up in the lake.

Snelling had to prove to state inspectors that the floodgate worked, but after leaving it open for a few days, he returned to close it and discovered that the shaft that opened and closed the gate had broken.

Closing the floodgate was a three-person job, with Snelling having to climb down inside the tower and position the shaft.

“I proved to the state that it was functional: I could open that gate,” he said.

Snelling said ensuring that the spillway worked properly was important.

“The whole main problem is, we do have life behind the dam,” he said.

Lake superintendent Isaac Hett said state officials didn’t try to insist on repairs to the broken shaft in the tower.

“They want everything dug out below the stream that runs from the overflow,” Hett said.

Last modified Feb. 2, 2023

 

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