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Dam safety incidents & failures

Despite our best efforts to promote dam safety and assist owners in maintaining their dams in a safe manner, incidents and failures sometimes occur. Here you’ll learn about the most recent dam safety incidents and failures, and also find information about historic events.

Ongoing incidents

If conditions at a dam under our jurisdiction prompt an emergency declaration or the involvement of local/state emergency response staff, we track it here. This does not necessarily mean that a failure is imminent. In these cases, we work with local emergency management and the dam owner to take steps to reduce the risks posed by the dam.

Eightmile Lake Dam

We are providing technical and regulatory support to the work to repair Eightmile Lake Dam in Chelan County. The dam is 90 years old and located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. After a 2017 wildfire, the area was left vulnerable to erosion, flash flooding, and possible dam failure. The owner of the dam, the Icicle-Peshastin Irrigation Districts, completed initial repairs to the dam in summer 2018. The Chelan County Department of Emergency Management led the response effort and notified local residents. Other involved agencies include the U.S. Forest Service and the National Weather Service.

There is currently no elevated threat from the dam. We are working closely with the owner as they continue to make repairs to further reduce risks. We have also installed monitoring equipment around the dam and conditions are normal.

Eightmile Lake Dam before initial repairs (left) and after (right) in summer 2018. The dam owner removed woody debris, cut down part of the rock-masonry spillway wall, reshaped the crest of the dam, and added armoring to allow the crest to function as a spillway. This work greatly increased the capacity of the dam to accommodate increased spring runoff and intense summer thunderstorms.

Dam failures in Washington

Some incidents can lead to a catastrophic release of water which may cause loss of life, damage to property, and environmental harm. We refer to these events as failures.  Below is a list of notable failures and some details on recent events.   

Bonasa Breaks Ranch Dam
Wenner Lakes Dams

Why dams fail

Nationally, the main reasons that dams fail are:
  • Overtopping — 34 percent of all failures
    • Inadequate spillway design
    • Debris blocking the spillway
    • Settlement of dam crest
       
  • Foundation defects — 30 percent of all failures
    • Differential settlement
    • Sliding and slope instability
    • High uplift pressures
    • Uncontrolled foundation seepage
       
  • Piping and seepage — 20 percent of all failures
    • Internal erosion through the dam caused by seepage — "piping"
    • Seepage and erosion along hydraulic structures, such as an outlet
    • Conduits or spillways, or leakage through animal burrows
    • Cracks in the dam
       
  • Conduits and valves — 10 percent of all failures
    • Piping of embankment material into conduit through joints or cracks
       
  • Other — 6 percent of all failures