Michigan Dam Failures and Climate Change

Guest News Brief by Kip Hansen  —  23 May 2020


Edenville_featured_imageIn keeping with the NY Times’ Editorial Narrative on climate change (“every story is a climate story”), Henry Fountain writes this piece:  ‘Expect More’: Climate Change Raises Risk of Dam Failures.     It carries the sub-title “Engineers say most dams in the United States, designed decades ago, are unsuited to a warmer world and stronger storms.”

The story is the sad tale of the dual dam failures in Michigan – the Edenville Dam failed and the resulting downstream flow overtopped the Sanford Lake Dam situated 10 miles further downstream on the Tittabawassee River.

Don’t know where that is?


About 65 miles north of Lansing.

Fountain reports:  “The dam that failed in Central Michigan on Tuesday gave way for the same reason most do: It was overwhelmed by water. Almost five inches of rain fell in the area in the previous two days, after earlier storms had saturated the ground and swollen the Tittabawassee River, which the dam held back.”

I give Fountain some credit for his clear statement:

“No one can say yet whether the intense rainfall that preceded this disaster was made worse by climate change.”

The facts do not deter Fountain from then claiming – using the magic ball of “experts” – that:

But global warming is already causing some regions to become wetter, and increasing the frequency of extreme storms, according to the latest National Climate Assessment. The trends are expected to continue as the world gets even warmer.

That puts more of the nation’s 91,500 dams at risk of failing, engineers and dam safety experts said.”

He then  quotes Amir AghaKouchak, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California, Irvine  “We should expect more of these down the road,  It’s unfortunate but this is what the trend is going to be. …. Overall, he and others say, dams in the United States and elsewhere are unprepared for the changes coming in a warming world.”

This string of expert logic goes like this:

  1. A single dam failed in rural Michigan because it received too much water coming downstream.
  2. Some places in the U.S. are getting wetter and some places are getting drier (ref: the latest National Climate Assessment).
  3. In the future, some places will continue to get wetter and some places will continue to get drier (and some places, oddly, will remain the same).
  4. Therefore: “More” of the 91,500 dams in the United States are at risk of failing. 

Gotta love those experts.

What’s the real story here?  Despite spinning to story to gloom-and-false-doom, as his editors require, Fountain at least admits, halfway through the story:

The dam, at Edenville Township, about 30 miles upstream from Midland, had severe design problems: It had been cited for having spillways that were inadequate to handle a maximum flood, whether affected by climate change or not. ….  But the Edenville Dam was hardly alone in being outdated, with design or maintenance deficiencies or other problems that might make it unsafe. The American Society of Civil Engineers, in its latest report card on infrastructure in 2017, gave the nation’s dams a “D” grade.


As was the case with the Oroville Dam  (and subsequent posts) in California in 2017, an emergency that forced the evacuation of 188,000 people, the problem was not just “too much rain”.  There were design flaws and mismanagement of the water flows.  They had not planned properly even for the present, no less predicted maximum stream flows.

Fountain unfortunately links to a model-driven study that he claims:  “…found that human-caused warming had increased early season runoff in the Sierra Nevada, contributing to the high water levels at the dam.”  

“This study investigates temperature impacts to snowpack and runoff‐driven flood risk over the Sierra Nevada during the extremely wet year of 2016–2017, which followed the extraordinary California drought of 2011–2015. By perturbing near‐surface temperatures from a 9‐km dynamically downscaled simulation, a series of offline land surface model experiments explore how Sierra Nevada hydrology has already been impacted by historical anthropogenic warming and how these impacts evolve under future warming scenarios.”

We already know that good snowpack years followed by early and warm springs cause heavy run-off – more run-off, less soaking in — which is generally good for California’s reservoirs.

Stream flows, higher or lower, are caused by weather.  Long-term averages are considered climate.

This flood event on the Tittabawassee  River:


[ link ]

For the Tittabawassee  River, the recent event was a record, but  we find that the historical crests (highest flood waters) have, as usual in climate science journalism,  been neglected and left out of the report  in favor of alarming news about the present.

20 Highest Historic Crests — Tittabawassee River at Midland

35.05, 05/20/2020 – This recent event.

33.89, 09/13/1986

32.15, 06/24/2017

29.70, 03/28/1916

29.50, 03/21/1948

28.80, 03/08/1946

28.37, 04/20/2013

28.26, 04/15/2014

28.00, 06/03/1945

27.82, 04/04/1959

27.75, 04/29/2011

27.60, 03/22/1976

27.52, 02/22/2018

27.45, 03/07/2004

27.08, 09/02/1975

27.08, 04/01/1960

26.98, 04/13/1965

26.97, 03/15/2006

26.80, 04/13/2013

26.34, 07/10/1957

I could find no reliable historical precipitation records for Central Michigan, though there is some observational evidence that the spring season has been wetter in recent years, but we can see that flood events are spread out over the decades, and happen every couple of years.

So – what is the real problem that resulted in this disaster for so many residents and businesses in the Midland area?

GREED:  “The wrestling match among four communities in Michigan’s heavily flooded areas, state and federal officials, and Boyce [Boyce Hydro Power LLC] goes back several years. The company and the community have been trying to get the other to pay for improvements as far back as 2012.”

And self-interest:  “When Boyce stopped generating power at the Edenville Dam, which is on the border of Midland and Gladwin counties, the company let the water level on Wixom Lake fall. Four area homeowners associations that had banded together to form the Four Lakes Task Force crafted a plan to have the two counties buy out Boyce and give oversight of the dams to the task force…. “People were upset because they couldn’t use the lake the way they wanted to,” said Stacy Trapani, a spokeswoman for Four Lakes.”  [ link ]

In short, everyone – local, state, federal and corporate officials knew that the dam was unsafe and would not stand up to a major flood event.  But no one wanted to pay for the needed upgrades to make it safe.  Local residents were upset when the power company used the water in the lakes to make electricity as that caused the water levels to fluctuate and interfered with their recreational boating and marinas – thus they advocating for leaving the lakes full. 

These two overlapping and competing interests caused a disaster – not the weather, not the climate, not climate change.


[Editing Note:  Several editing errors were corrected 2145 ET 22 May 2020 ]

# # # # #


Author’s Comment:

And that’s the news for the day….

I have not mentioned the other factors that generally add to the flooding of America’s rivers  – dredging, diking, narrowing of the stream bed and other human interference with Nature’s unavoidable need to let water flow downhill.  You can bet there is a some of that on the Tittabawassee  River as well.

# # # # #

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Mike McHenry
May 22, 2020 6:05 pm

Interestingly about 8 years ago they were blaming low great lakes levels on climate change. Now too much rain which is it NYT?

Curious George
Reply to  Mike McHenry
May 22, 2020 6:23 pm

Climate change cuts both ways. That’s why we don’t have global warming any more.

Reply to  Curious George
May 23, 2020 3:24 am

“some areas” get dryer , some get wetter ( carefully never saying which areas you are talking about ).

That way, whatever happens it’s due to climate change and “is exactly what was predicted”

Heads I win, tails you lose. 😉

Reply to  Curious George
May 23, 2020 3:29 am

Indeed they couldn’t keep the global warming scam going, so they upgraded to global warming 2.0 with a new name. It’s like MS Vista.

Reply to  Mike McHenry
May 22, 2020 7:29 pm

If it’s not the same as last year, global warming caused it.

Reply to  MarkW
May 23, 2020 1:08 pm


Hahaha! Spot on!

May 22, 2020 6:22 pm

The dams were constructed in 1924 1nd 1925. Well before current standards were adopted, or even thought of. Back then there would not have been a long record of river stages to size the dams nor the hydrologic models to calculate flows.

Reply to  Chris4692
May 22, 2020 8:26 pm

Dams have been constructed for centuries.
But most modern hydrology and hydraulics standards only started in 1960s.

David L Hagen
Reply to  Chris4692
May 23, 2020 7:15 pm

For dam problems see: Will the Oroville Dam Survive the ArKStorm?

This is soberingly similar to official assurances that “Iron” dam Soviet design of China’s Banqiao Dam was invincible (Si 1998). Officials had even authorized retaining another 32 million cubic meters of water above the dam’s safe design capacity. Yet some 171,000 to 230,000 people died from the 1975 catastrophic failure of China’s Banqiao Dam and Shimantan Dams, when deluged by Super Typhoon Nina being blocked by a cold front. See Britannica, Fish (2013), Si (1998), Ingomar200 (2013). That, with the domino failure of sixty downstream dams, displaced eleven million people. An overflow caused catastrophic breach and failure of the USA’s highest dam is thus no empty threat.

Tim Gorman
May 22, 2020 6:23 pm

I heard today that the company managing the upstream dam had requested the ability to increase flow in the spillway to lower the lake but was refused by federal officials because it would hurt some kind of oyster in the river.

To the feds the oysters were of higher priority than the people downstream of the dam.

My guess is that there will be no repercussions to the feds at all!

Reply to  Michael Jankowski
May 22, 2020 6:56 pm

Michael ==> I’ll have to add “Crazed Environmentalism” to the list of real causes.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 1:01 am

Presumably the dam failure did more damage to the mussels than a brief period of high flow rates?

Gerry, England
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
May 23, 2020 4:45 am

You can’t beat governments or their agencies when it comes to unintended consequences of their actions. Probably caused by the inability to carry out rational thought. In the UK the morons in charge let a large area of Somerset flood by their actions to help wildlife. Somehow all the birdlife was supposed to deal with becoming ‘seabirds’ with no ground to search for food and all of the ground wildlife drowned.

Nick Graves
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 5:33 am

That’s a dam’ shame!

I’ll get my coat…

Reply to  Michael Jankowski
May 23, 2020 12:10 pm

Michael, thanks for the Link. What a mess and when it’s all done, blame Climate Change. Climate Change has become such a convenient scape goat for incompetents at all levels. What did we ever do before CC came along? Oh, I know, people had to take responsibility for their screw ups and fix the dam problems!
Maybe everyone can sue the mussels?

Reply to  Tim Gorman
May 23, 2020 1:36 am

The Bret Baier show had a segment on that the other day. According to what was depicted the owners knew of the approaching weather systems, and asked for a permit to release more water. They were refused because the last time they had done so the release disturbed mussel beds downstream.

Reply to  Tim Gorman
May 23, 2020 11:31 am

The federal government had ceded authority to the state of Michigan. Our Stalin wannabe Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her know nothing AG were the ones who refused permission to alter water flows to “protect” fresh water mussels.

Reply to  mohatdebos
May 24, 2020 9:34 pm

It’s gonna be funny when sleepy Joe passes her over. Lol. I bet that she devil will really lash out then. Recall.

Rhoda R
Reply to  Tim Gorman
May 23, 2020 1:19 pm

Refused by the State of Michigan. Other than that, you are correct.

May 22, 2020 6:36 pm

Like the Mississippi river has never overflowed….

Doc Chuck
May 22, 2020 6:38 pm

It’s both low and high, Mike, and all the news that’s fit to print more. The NYT will not be bound by anything that limits its promotion of the favored narrative that has snaked through 30 years and counting of that dreadful foreboding, with correctives that must be obeyed. So expecting them to uphold any other standard of consistent practice is a waste of your time and mine.

May 22, 2020 6:38 pm

Michigan is surrounded by so much fresh water they can’t help but use it to hurt someone. Protection of fresh water mussels had something to do with the state ordering the dam owner to raise water levels, though the state denies it.


Reply to  Scissor
May 22, 2020 6:58 pm

Scissor ==> Claims, accusation, and counter-claims, counter-accusations. Some things never change.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 22, 2020 9:05 pm

I see this going the same way as the Flint lead pipes issue. Lack of State oversight and understanding the risks.
A 2017 EPA report found fault with Michigan’s oversight of Flint’s drinking water system, placing the most blame with the Michigan DEQ.

So like the Flint lead pipes fiasco, I suspect most of this blame will eventually land at the feet of state regulators and their desire to protect the mussels. Governor Whitmer probably already is aone-term governor with her draconian lockdown orders on her state, so eventually she also take the fall by Democrats after she’s gone.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
May 23, 2020 3:33 am

Oh no Joel this is clearly Trumps fault. Simon should be along any moment to tell us why.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
May 23, 2020 6:37 am

Speaking of “that woman from Michigan”, I wonder if the 10,000 evacuees will be prosecuted for violating Gauleiter Whitmer’s Stay-at-Home Befehl?

High Treason
May 22, 2020 6:40 pm

The term “climate change” is actually meaningless without a qualifying pronoun. Without qualification, it means nothing at all or anything you want it to say. As a meaningless 2 words, it could encompass both warming and cooling. Without qualification, it encompasses man-made and natural climate change. The term “climate change” does not even state if it is a dangerous phenomenon worthy of “climate action.”

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  High Treason
May 22, 2020 7:35 pm

“The term “climate change” is actually meaningless without a qualifying pronoun.”

Pronoun? Her Climate Change? His Climate Change?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
May 22, 2020 8:35 pm

Phony climate change, I assume.

If they were actually talking about some real kind of climate change I might even read their sh!te.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  philincalifornia
May 22, 2020 8:49 pm

I just wasn’t sure if this was some strange usage of the word “pronoun” that I hadn’t previously been aware of (h/t Arthur Dent).

Jack Black
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
May 22, 2020 9:55 pm

Of course that’s it!

We simply just need to all gather outside the Michigan State Senate, and recite Vogon poetry at them until the all fall asleep from boredom. That’s a mad idea, but no madder than the pointless edicts that emanate from there anyway. We should maybe be just be paying the Michigan State Legislature to merely turn up each day and recite Vogon poetry to each other. They’d do less harm, and it’d cost taxpayers less in the long run?

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
May 23, 2020 1:30 am

Aaaaah gottit.

Also, on the subject of pronouns though, from Yes Minister, on ascribing blame to a PM decision, as I recall – ‘…. not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question is, it may surprise you to learn, one whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of defining by means of the perpendicular pronoun.”

One of TV’s immortal lines. I’ll shut up now.

Curious George
Reply to  High Treason
May 23, 2020 7:14 am

Any change is dangerous (except a progressive one). Same as “free speech”.

May 22, 2020 6:44 pm

Michigan AG filied suite against Boyce in April and May of this year. They claim science to shut down for covid but ingnore science when a dam operator needs the level lowered to prevent a catastrophe like this from happening. Now the mussels they were protecting are screwed along with all the residents of the water way.
We need to downsize this government immediately.

May 22, 2020 6:51 pm

“Stream flows, higher or lower, are caused by weather. Long-term averages are considered climate.”

This is a common over simplification. Weather and climate pundits often forget the hydrological factors resulting from changes to land cover. A catchment today will respond significantly differently than it did 20, 50, 100 years ago under same IDF rainfall intensity curves. A 10% increase of impermeable surfaces and reduced surface roughness can result in 30% higher peak flows compared to the natural landscape of central Michigan. Higher peak flows also result in lower base flows. This is the same as saying more floods and more droughts, and it’s mostly attributable to changes in catchment hydrology.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 22, 2020 7:37 pm

Your response indicates an anchoring bias and incomplete problem definition. Changing hydrology is the key factor leading to stress on many water control structures. It should not be reserved as an afterthought.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 24, 2020 10:36 am

Kit mistake in story, you stay residents upset about using it for electricity, however you quote “Boyce stopped generating power at the Edenville Dam” causing water levels to drop. So homeowners upset it still wasn’t being used for electricity. Doesn’t change point of story.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 25, 2020 10:06 am

The quote in the articles says they let it FALL AFTER stopped generation of power. I assume if it falls it is no longer full.

“When Boyce stopped generating power at the Edenville Dam, which is on the border of Midland and Gladwin counties, the company let the water level on Wixom Lake fall. Four area homeowners associations that had banded together to form the Four Lakes Task Force crafted a plan to have the two counties buy out Boyce and give oversight of the dams to the task force”

Reply to  JCM
May 22, 2020 7:56 pm

Excellent comment.
In my region of south eastern Australia it is predicted that there will be lower over all rainfall.
More intense storms at about 5% increase in storm intensity for each 1 deg c of temperature increase.
However, it is very common for the impervious areas of catchments to increase by more than 100% as the community develops.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Waza
May 22, 2020 8:51 pm

I seriously doubt anyone would notice if any given storm was 5% more anything.

Reply to  Waza
May 23, 2020 4:08 am

well WAZA i do hope youre not betting the farm on their predictions mate.
cos the no rainuntil oct predictions from earlier are right up the shitter already for vic west, hit avg already and more rain coming
the ENSO is looking good again as is the revertedIOD for decentrains
and the out of season typhoon? off WA is going to give a large area some hefty rains it seems;-)

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 10:42 am

Yes paving the LA river and tributaries was a drastic knee jerk reaction to flooding in the 1930s – it has led to dry channel beds the vast majority of the time. It has completely cut off LA residents from their water resource and disrupted groundwater cycling mechanisms. The LA solution is short sighted and will require generations of investment to resolve. The system discharges massive toxic stormwater loads and puts residents at great risk of flashier flood events.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 3:56 pm

Kip and JCM
The LA River is not dissimilar to the Yarra River in terms of catchment size.
But I guess the flow differences are the issue.
Flows-approximately in m3/s
LA River min 0, ave 6.4, max 3700
Yarra River min 4, ave 35, max 150
We can get dolphins swimming several kms upstream.

Cleaning up the LA River would be an immense feat

May 22, 2020 7:06 pm

“Stream flows, higher or lower, are caused by weather. Long-term averages are considered climate.”

This is misleading. Attribution substitution is normally reserved for the political class. You must include changes to catchment hydrology. 10% increase in urbanization can result in 30% higher peak flows in a landscape like central Michigan. Similarly, increased runoff also leads to lower base flows. This is the same as saying more floods and more droughts, and it’s mostly attributable to changes in catchment hydrology.

Foley Hund
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 6:56 am

Probably an “anchoring” glitch…lol

May 22, 2020 7:12 pm

These days every story in the MSM is twisted to be either a Climate Change story or a Trump failure. Even if there was a drought in the Sahara, it would become a climate catastrophe probably related to a Trump Policy mistake.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 6:47 pm

The Fourth Estate consists of mostly Fifth Columnists.

Jack Black
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
May 22, 2020 9:19 pm

It’s interesting, that if the Sahara were not a desert, then the Amazon Rainforest would have run out of nutrients hundreds of years ago, and the atmospheric content if CO2 would be a deal higher than it is today, and all because vast amounts of nutrients are blown across the South Atlantic Ocean every year.

Everything is related to everything else.

May 22, 2020 7:18 pm

Muh anthropo something made water too wet.

Also, slippery.

Water is a b.tch.

May 22, 2020 7:22 pm

Thank you for this very detailed and professional analysis. The issue on the table appears to be whether fossil fuels are to blame. Perhaps even more to the point, the question is whether climate action in the form of reducing fossil fuel emissions will help; since the climate catastrophe serves only to rationalize the pre-existing hatred of fossil fuels.


Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Chaamjamal
May 22, 2020 8:22 pm

Well of course fossil fuels are to blame. If everybody drove electric cars powered by wind turbines, there wouldn’t ever be any floods. Or forest fires. Or hurricanes. Although just to make sure we should also exterminate all the cows. Except in Red China — they don’t count and we all love Red China anyway.

May 22, 2020 7:22 pm

The problems with the Wivenhoe dam and the Brisbane floods in Jan 2011 were entirely due to Government policy and limits on the dam aimed for drinking water level and the poor operation of the dam and water releases. Design can be a problem if engineers are not professional, registered and liable under law for competence but it usually government policy and interference that is the problem. If there is an unforeseen problem then it has to fixed by competent engineers not government economic decisions.

Reply to  cementafriend
May 22, 2020 8:12 pm


Bro. Steve
May 22, 2020 7:27 pm

Five inches of rain in two days is really not that much. People living above the dam don’t care about the poor suckers downstream. Man’s inhumanity to man.

Reply to  Bro. Steve
May 22, 2020 8:52 pm

That’s what I was thinking. 5 inches in two days is a light drizzle compared with some storms I’ve experienced.

Maybe it was the girth ……. (sorry mods).

Reply to  Bro. Steve
May 22, 2020 9:49 pm

“Five inches of rain in two days is really not that much.”
The dam broke.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
May 22, 2020 11:25 pm

It was a poorly constructed dam.

NOTHING to do with “climate”

But you knew that, didn’t you Nick.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
May 23, 2020 12:59 am

It depends on site.
Apparently May Michigan average is 3.7 inch. This storm event was 4.7 inch.( 127% of an average month)

Here in Melbourne Australia I am monitoring a small dam under construction.
Since January it has withstood four ( rainfall) events greater than their corresponding monthly mean. Example Melbourne March mean 50.1mm median 38.8mm but March 5th 54.6mm fell.
Every location is different but I would expect a dam to brush off a storm event equivalent to 3 months median rain in 24 hours.
Even small dams should take 1000 year events with larger taking 20,000 year events.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
May 23, 2020 8:09 am

Nick Stokes obviously believes that structures don’t decay with time and never need any maintenance/upkeep, or that extraneous exceptional circumstances/changes might occur. No it wasn’t that water had been seeping through the structure for decades and had undermined it all, not because the concrete had been gradually turning to dust – the rebar rusting away, it wasn’t because a bloke forgot to open a relief sluice according to design procedure etc.

Why does an oak tree blow over one year and not another. It’s probably not the worst wind that tree has ever seen – it’ s the gradual weakening from disease/decay, the increased wind leverage on the yearly increasing height. Or perhaps because a shielding wall or tree was removed etc. Eventually a critical failure occurs, inevitable from the moment the acorn germinated (or the dam was built), it was not ‘because climate change’.

Reply to  Bro. Steve
May 23, 2020 12:24 am

Where I live in SEQld. rainfall over two hours has been over 400m or 16ins and rain over two days has been over 1m or 40ins. Dam walls and spillways should be designed for one in 500 yr in flow surges and flood prone areas are designed for one in a hundred years. This year (2020) in Feb we had 6th 71mm, 7th 81mm, 10th 42mm, 11th 32mm, 13th 151mm 25th 26mm 26th 42mm with total for month 523mm. This summer (Jan, Feb, Mar) has been a relatively dry. 500mm for any of these months is common with an average about 250-260mm and std. dev. about 230-240mm. High rainfall is about 5 *std.dev. Even a second rate earth bank farm dam can withstand 10ins of rain over two days.
Government incompetence if they allow a dam to fail with 5ins rain over two days.

Reply to  cementafriend
May 23, 2020 1:23 am

Here in Melbourne we are at about 470mm near the end of May.
The median is 644mm.
If we go median for the rest of year we will get 820mm.
One or two more big months and who knows may break 1916 record of 967mm.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  cementafriend
May 23, 2020 9:54 am

“Where I live in SEQld. rainfall over two hours has been over 400m or 16ins”

Did you mean to say 2 hours? Or 2 weeks? Months? I find 16 inches in 2 hours pretty unbelievable.

Reply to  Jeff Alberts
May 24, 2020 8:24 pm

That would be about right for SE Queensland. They get some major rainfall events.

May 22, 2020 8:02 pm

To think that Americans don’t understand that CC is playing both sides of the same narrative is demeaning. Just because people aren’t vocal about CC falsehoods doesn’t mean they don’t know what’s real. With the MSM pushing the CC narrative so heavily no one wants to challenge the perceived system but they know what’s being forced on them. Blaming dam failures on CC is an example of their propaganda. Is there no end to what AGW causes?

Robert of Texas
May 22, 2020 8:21 pm

It isn’t just the amount of rainfall that impacts river levels, it’s land change as well. If you pave over more land, then more running water is the result. If you try to create barriers to water, you raise the river levels.

Also, lakes become infilled with sediment over time, so where once a lake held “x” cubic yards of water, 50 years later it holds only 75% of “x” at the same water level (yes, that statistic is made up, choose your own, the point holds true).

So it is no wonder that a dam that is inadequately managed that was designed 50 or more years ago is overwhelmed by a rare set of rainfall events. What is a wonder is why this is a mystery to so many activists?

If you build 90,000 dams and only 1% fail every 100 hundred years, that still comes to 9 failed dams per year. It only takes 1 failed damn to create a disaster. It takes only 1 mislead or immoral journalist to then turn this into a climate-change story to fit their own agenda.

Angus McFarlane
May 22, 2020 8:26 pm


Dam failures are not unusual an average of 10 dams per year fail in the US.
See the link below which states that, “A dam failure that has flooded several communities in Michigan is not unusual, given that the US experiences an average of 10 failures annually, says Lori Spragens, executive director of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.”


May 22, 2020 8:42 pm

People modify their land holdings, over time, so that water puddles move off their property and downhill to the next property. Even without increased rainfall, over 50 years flooding at downstream locations gets worse because upstream storage has been reduced one shovel trench and one landscaped area, one pasture at a time. To those on the receiving end of this “improved drainage” it has gotten worse over their lifetimes and the CC narrative fits their experience, even-if not the real cause,

May 22, 2020 8:45 pm

Piping – possible ‘piping’ (fluid flow through the dam) failure?

My understanding, at this point in time, the Wixon lake (Edenville dam) was already 5-8 ft ABOVE normal full (high point) pool elevation (AND houses were flooded AROUND lake Wixon), so water would not normally ever be this high on/against the earthen dam.

Question: would the lowered pool elevation (lower lake level) preferred by Bryce Hydro have mitigated this dam failure by being able to temporarily ‘contain’ this 5 inch rain over two days WHILE discharging water a max rate through the spillway?

I’m betting that in past this years, THIS IS THE WAY this dam survived the spring rains, after all, spring rains do bring heavier rains, and this dam is/was nearly 100 years old. I remember one occasion as a kid hurricane remnants dumping week-long rains in southern Michigan and I remember it vividly because I was at Boy Scout camp for that week!

“Michigan dam failure caught on video”, c/o MLive

Reply to  _Jim
May 22, 2020 11:29 pm

Water should never have been allowed to get that high behind the dam !

Reply to  _Jim
May 23, 2020 12:04 am

Ive done dam inspections and evaluation before as my job as an engineer. This was obviously a piping type failure. The dam was not bejng breached ar the time of failure. All dams are designed with the worst case of water being at the top of dam. On earthen dams maintenance is a big issue. Usually the problem is trees grow on the banks weakening the soil. I didnt see any evidence of this. So the failure was unfortunate and pprobably not due to maintenance which for this dam would be deterioration of the concrete spillway. So..this dam failure was not due to climate change.

However the point of increased maximum rainfalls due to an average of temperature increase does have some merit since warmer air can hold increased moisture.

It doesn't add up...
Reply to  Jamie
May 23, 2020 3:15 am

I can thoroughly recommend this training manual from Severn Trent Water that I discovered during the Whaley Bridge event in Derbyshire


Reply to  _Jim
May 23, 2020 12:46 am

The forecasts were clear. Why did they allow the lake to overflow?

Reply to  _Jim
May 23, 2020 1:31 am

Thanks for video.
Clearly should not be that full.

Reply to  _Jim
May 23, 2020 7:04 pm

Camp Teetonkah?

Joel O'Bryan
May 22, 2020 8:46 pm

Save the Trees, Save those bees,
Save the whales, Save those snails….
Save the mussels on the Tittabawassee River.

It’s what got us into trouble in the first place.

George Carlin certainly understood the demented minds of Environmentalists.

J Mac
May 22, 2020 9:19 pm

Governor ‘Half’ Whit-mer had many opportunities to address the inadequacies of the 2 dams that caused the flooding problems on the Tittabawassee River. She chose to address other issues of lower real priorities but higher perceived political value instead.

The November elections are coming. Remember in November!

Kevin Terrill
May 22, 2020 10:01 pm

Sad to see the Edenville dam break and Wixom Lake disappear. My Uncle has a Mobile home about 500 feet left of where the breach is shown on the headline picture. Luckily nobody was killed or even injured from what I’ve heard from friends and relatives in the area. I was in high school at Midland High during the 1986 flooding event.

May 23, 2020 12:06 am

From: https://www.ourmidland.com/news/article/Midland-Remembers-Genius-nbsp-burning-The-story-13778540.php#photo-17249061

Actual construction of the dams began in 1923. They were completed in 1924 and the first power generated in October 1925. Consumers Power signed a 99-year lease with the Wolverine Power Co. to use all the power generated by the new dams.

I wonder if that 99 year lease is still effective, and what the terms were?

More: Men and horses and the most primitive of equipment constructed the dams that are still in use today. Men stood in the waters of the Tittabawassee River and the Tobacco River to begin digging for the dams. Horses pulled great scrapers to make the embankments. Men driving tractors packed the soil down and moved the earth from place to place to make room for the enormous structures that were to house the generators to harness the power of the rivers.

Water was backed up from Sanford to Edenville to form Sanford Lake. Above Edenville, two larger dams were built on the Tobacco and Tittabawassee Rivers just above their confluence. Those two dams were connected by a large embankment extending about a mile and a quarter between the two rivers. This became Wixom Lake, the largest “fill” in the state of Michigan at that time and covered 3,258 acres, stretching for 10 miles making a fork-shaped lake on what had once been farmland.

May 23, 2020 12:17 am

The Future of Wixom Lake” (online PowerPoint PPT Presentation) dated before the recent dam collpase

The Future of Wixom Lake. “We’re all in this together”.
Why the Lakes exist.
The dams at Sanford, Edenville, Smallwood and Secord were built by Frank Wixom in 1925 Wixom owned all the upstream lands that were flooded The flooding created four reservoirs and lots of waterfront real estate ….

Reply to  _Jim
May 23, 2020 5:31 am

_Jim, from my relatives with cabins on (what was) Wixom Lake, the Smallwood Dam upriver also was breached. That, along with the heavy rain, caused the Wixom Lake flooding. YES, Wixom Lake 1st flooded causing damage to many cottages. Later the Wixom Lake Dam breached causing further flooding downriver. https://gladwincounty-mi.gov/dam-information/

“Smallwood Dam

The Smallwood Dam is located on the Tittabawassee River about 34 miles upstream of the City of Midland, Michigan. The dam is located in Gladwin County Michigan approximately 8 miles southeast of the City of Gladwin. It is the third in a series of four dams operated by Boyce Hydro, LLC, the others are Sanford and Edenville (downstream from Smallwood), and Secord (upstream from Smallwood). All were built in 1924 for the purpose of water power development to generate electricity….”


” Flooding at Smallwood usually occurs in the spring as the result of heavy spring rains or snow cover over ground in a fairly saturated condition. Major floods occurred on June 24, 2017, September 13, 1986; March 21, 1948; March 8, 1946; and June 3, 1943.”


“Edenville Dam

The Edenville Dam is located on the Tittabawassee River about 21 miles upstream of the City of Midland, Michigan. The dam is located on the County Line between the Counties of Midland and Gladwin, Michigan. It is the second in a series of four dams operated by Boyce Hydro, LLC….”


“Flooding at Edenville usually occurs in the spring as the result of heavy spring rains or snow cover over ground in a fairly saturated condition. Major floods occurred on June 24, 2017, September 13, 1986, March 21, 1948, March 8, 1946, and June 3, 1943, when peak discharges were 39,000 cfs, 38,400 cfs, 34,000 cfs, 31,200 cfs, and 28,000 cfs, respectively at the Midland gauging station1.”

So we had a cascading effect of three dams overflowing and then breaching. All are owned by Boyce Hydro, LLC.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 8:22 am

re: “The PowerPoint is from Boyce power attempting to gain …”

Did you miss the desired ‘impact’ these key words were supposed have (appearing on the title page of that ppt): “We’re all in this together”.

Which I think is pretty much true. No dam, no water front property (AND this includes usable water levels for those w/lake front property).

Here is what we don’t know: what does the power contract between Bryce Hydo and Consumer’s Power (Consumer’s Energy now) represent? If the 99 yr lease expires in a few years (~2024) Bryce Hydro may gain an upper hand financially, and maybe ALL this has been a delaying tactic until that day. IDK b/c I don’t have access to all the info and facts, in particular, what the original contract stated, and EVEN if it was transferable between selling and purchasing parties (Bryce Hydro is not the original owner of these facilities, a company name Wolverine Power was.)

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 9:10 am

re: “Somewhere in all this is the fact that the FERC pulled Boyce’s permit ..”

I had not even addressed that; I’ve been through (slogged through more like; its boring reading) the more than several findings, orders, filings and responses back and forth between FERC and Bryce Hydro on this subject, and it gets fairly involved on account of Bryce Hydro seemed entirely un-moved by FERC findings and decrees, and furthermore FERC had repeatedly allowed several deadline extensions (over the course of better than a decade) until they had had enough and finally FERC pulled their power generating license*, at which point Michigan (and DNR/EGLE/???) entered the (regulatory) picture (AS it pertains to dam safety).

ALSO mentioned by FERC in some ‘findings’/orders/repots are occurrences where Bryce Hydro had made repairs or changes to the dam and associated facilities, and no notice (as it required) had been made to FERC involving same. There is a LOT to this whole saga, and we have only just scratched the surface.
* Note, this does NOT inhibit Bryce Hydro from re-applying for a new operating license (at some point in the future) _once_ FERC dam safety requirements are met. Now that the dam has ‘burst’ though, who knows what lies ahead …

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 10:11 am

_Jim wonders: “Now that the dam has ‘burst’ though, who knows what lies ahead …” Yes we do! Lawsuits, counter lawsuits and appeals to each and everyone.

No one is spotless in this catastrophe. Boyce, Michigan’s AG, the residents and the Federal Govt all played a part in letting or instigating this event. My family tells me that Boyce was almost emptying the lake the past 2 Winters, presumably to reduce risk of ice damage and ?maybe to correct dam deficiencies?.

My heart goes out to those who sustained property damage, and to those who have lost their lake recreation and property values. After all, mud view is not the same as lake view or lake front.

Reply to  CoRev
May 23, 2020 10:21 am

re: “Yes we do! Lawsuits, counter lawsuits and appeals to each and everyone.

You speak the obvious; That’s a given. Look further out in time; I’m referring to re-building the Edenville dam, to which my statement “Now that the dam has ‘burst’ though, who knows what lies ahead …” still stands.

There are a number of person, organizations committed to seeing the lake survive, including these:




Each offers a slightly different perspective, including copies of legal filings and even subjects not broached yet here on WUWT (IOW, I’m not going to mention any for the sake of my time.)

From these guys: https://www.wixomlakeassociation.org/most-recent-news however we do glean this tidbit though:

. . . . May 3, 2020 WLA Water Spring Refill is Complete
. . . . . . . . May 3, 2020 Refill is Complete


May 23, 2020 12:39 am

Precipitation warning for residents of Michigan.

Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 10:07 am

Circulation is blocked over the cool North Atlantic.
comment image

May 23, 2020 1:29 am

Off topic, but Kip you said in a blog comment some time ago that you were looking at the fate of tiny plastic particles once they were ingested by marine organisms.
Have you been able to make any progress on this, although I appreciate you are very busy.

May 23, 2020 1:44 am

I already picked up on this story on another blog because it has parallels with the UK’s Whaley Bridge dam failure that was almost a disaster, albeit on a probably smaller scale.

At the time we had all the same same sort of media coverage – climate change, unprecedented rainfall etc. whereas it was immediately obvious to ‘us skeptics’ that the dam had been allowed to deteriorate.

The eventual investigation did correctly conclude it was design/maintenance/bureaucracy failures, but of course that never got the same extensive media coverage and headlines that the failure did – so 95% of the population will still believe it was another disaster caused by extreme weather linked to climate change.

This is how the MSM climate propaganda machine routinely operates.

john cooknell
Reply to  MrGrimNasty
May 23, 2020 5:37 am

The UK Government machine actually covered up the true reasons for the dam failure at the time.

So everybody was happy to blame climate change.


Lawrence Ayres
May 23, 2020 2:48 am

Same same in Australia. Rather than accept responsibility for poor management during natural disasters our politicians are quick to blame unprecedented conditions on climate change, the next best thing to and act of God. The trouble is that the term unprecedented is used by those too lazy to look at the records. A good one lately referred to heavy rain that was unprecedented in the last twenty years

George V
May 23, 2020 4:33 am

It’s interesting that warmer weather is supposed to make it rain more when this spring here in southeast Michigan has been on cold side.

But that’s just me, not an expert, just someone who has lived here for decades and observed that the cooler spring seasons have more rain and the warm ones are when I’ve had to start watering the lawn by early May.

George V
May 23, 2020 4:37 am

Another thought – this flood has set a new record crest for the river at Midland at 35.05 feet. But that was with the dam failing. If the dam had not failed, what would the crest have been?

Reply to  George V
May 23, 2020 5:26 am

re: “this flood has set a new record crest for the river at Midland at 35.05 feet. But that was with the dam failing. If the dam had not failed, what would the crest have been?

Hazarding an educated guess at this given the information at hand in this thread: Look at the list “20 Highest Historic Crests — Tittabawassee River at Midland” Kip has in his opening post (excepting the 1916 date when the dams were not in place) with the working assumption that the operators were exercising the dams (and associated lakes) in (limited?) “flood control” mode.

It looks like total Edenville dam failure (including the over-topping and failing of the Sanford dam) resulted in the ‘record’ crest in Midland by less than 1 and 1/8 ft over 1986.

Kevin Terrill
Reply to  Kip Hansen
May 23, 2020 9:38 am

Kip, from the USGS website it looks like the gage is in the middle of Dow Chemicals property down stream from downtown Midland near brine pond number 6. In downtown Midland you have the confluence of three rivers, the Pine River which flows into the Chippewa River which flows into the Titabawasee. That’s why there’s a three legged pedestrian bridge downtown spanning where the Chip and Tit come together.

Salvatore Castronovo
May 23, 2020 5:49 am

The State of MI was warned two years ago that the dam was inadequate. This had been going on for several MI administrations, BUT the Fed closure occurred on “Whimpers“ watch. Her administration is therefore responsible for not taking corrective measures. The most recent being not to recognize the antecedent rainfalls and not lowering the level of the lakes. Unfortunately all of us MI residents, we and those effected are going to pay for her mistake. And she wants to run for USA VP. I think this and her handling of the Wuhan Virus sealed that fate….

John Garrett
May 23, 2020 5:52 am

Mr. Hansen,
Thank you for yet another meticulously researched and well-written recital of facts and rebuttal.

May 23, 2020 5:56 am

I write to take the discussion in a different direction.

Problems with legacy dams are man made problems. Many dams are old. Traditional owners want to abandon many. Transfer of ownership to shore front property owners is impeded by liability, other financial and operating concerns. Transferring ownership to towns, counties and states is impeded by competing demands on social resources–and “environmentalist” demands that watersheds be returned to their natural condition.

May 23, 2020 6:57 am

The link between Climate Change of Doom and a dam failure here in Michigan is that CCOD hysteria caused Michigan to spend billions of dollars on worse-than-worthless wind turbines and solar panels instead of on critical infrastructure requirements.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
May 23, 2020 7:22 am

One of the problems with blaming “climate change” for everything is: when you misdiagnose a problem you’re much less likely to arrive at a proper solution. Even if that area of Michigan is getting wetter, the real issue is our failure as a society to maintain critical infrastructure. The problems with the dam had been noted for years; the proper corrections are well within current engineering capabilities. The inaction was due to disputes over who should pay.

If there is a revenue stream from operating a physical plant, the owner of that cash flow has an incentive to maintain the plant and continue enjoying the income. If other forces combine to reduce or eliminate the revenue, then the plant stops being an asset and becomes a liability. Companies and individuals will always seek to reduce or eliminate uncompensated liabilities; maintenance is one of the first to suffer.

When operating, the dam was trying to please three masters: the power company, recreational users of the lake, and environmental interests. Only one of those activities generated revenue, but the other interests were able to use the courts and other state agencies to gain a measure of control without contributing to offset the resulting diminished income.

In the US the courts are completely shielded from liability for damages and injuries caused by their decisions. This may be necessary to the proper function of the courts, but it lends itself to abuse in the hands of activists. Courts in general have no more competence in the disciplines relevant to dam construction and maintenance than the average person, but they gain authority to make these decisions under the legal fiction that the process is itself omnicompetent — capable of deciding all questions. It isn’t, but we pretend otherwise because alternative methods such as trial by combat have fallen out of favor.

The mismanagement of critical infrastructure happens routinely even without interference from the courts..

Take for example the 1983 collapse of the Mianus River Bridge on I-95 in Connecticut, where I was living at the time. 3 people were killed, but it happened very early in the morning with light traffic; it could have been much worse. Granted, the bridge was an older, no longer used design. But the real cause of the collapse was neglect and inadequate or improper maintenance, which was Connecticut’s responsibility. After the collapse the state sued the engineering firm. The defense was able to show Connecticut had not followed the recommended inspection and maintenance schedule they were given when the bridge was completed. Having one of the state inspectors falsify back-dated inspection reports after the disaster did not help the state’s case.

The reason for the collapse was simple: some years prior Connecticut changed the law so gasoline taxes, vehicle registration fees and road tolls went into the general fund rather than being diverted to a restricted account that could only be used to maintain roads and bridges. Inspection and maintenance became underfunded and bridges in particular became neglected. No money, no maintenance and no chance something won’t fail eventually.

Another example which happened just after we moved to Atlanta: the 1993 sewer sinkhole. A 70-year old storm sewer failed and opened up a sinkhole over 200 feet long, 50 feet wide and over 30 feet deep. A parking lot collapsed completely taking several cars with it. As I recall it was either a 10 or 12-foot diameter pipe and repairs were delayed because that size pipe wasn’t made any more and replacement sections had to be special ordered.

The statement from the Atlanta Mayor at the scene is classic:

Mayor Maynard Jackson, who rushed to the scene to review the damage, said it was too early to blame the city or any one individual.

‘We do not know what caused this,’ said Jackson. ‘There’s no way to ascertain accountability at this point.’

Atlanta had been collecting water and sewer fees for all the 70 years that pipe had been in the ground, but had no adequately funded inspection and repair program to prevent catastrophic failures. And they knew that particular section had a problem; they didn’t know how bad it was and apparently felt no need to investigate further.

Pretty much everybody does the same thing: they build something and forget about funding a capital maintenance and replacement program. Instead they wait until something fails then float a new bond issue or put their hands out to the federal government to rescue them from a “disaster”. Something you know will fail eventually and can see deteriorating years in advance isn’t a disaster; it’s negligence. And it’s what we do routinely.

There is a decommissioning fund for commercial nuclear reactors that is paid into by a tax on each KWH generated. So far it has proved adequate to cover expenses. Perhaps something similar needs to be instituted for dams. If they generate power, tax the sales. If they create lakefront property, tax the property owners. Likewise charge a fee for recreational use. That way there is a fund to pay for necessary repairs, or safe deconstruction if nobody wants to maintain it. And if the courts over-rule the professional dam management regarding releases to maintain safety, make the plaintiffs put up a bond to cover liability.

The problem here as with nearly every infrastructure “disaster” is inadequate or improper maintenance. Climate change, even if real, contributed basically nothing.

Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
May 25, 2020 3:56 am

“In the US the courts are completely shielded from liability for damages and injuries caused by their decisions”

You would need an independent judiciary to judge those. Would it be fitted in the executive branch, with judges chosen and fired at will by the President?

It would be only fair since Judge Sullivan wants to play Special Prosecutor (or “special whatever”).

May 23, 2020 9:38 am

Quote “I could find no reliable historical precipitation records for Central Michigan,…”


Tom Abbott
May 23, 2020 1:22 pm

From the article: “Fountain reports: “The dam that failed in Central Michigan on Tuesday gave way for the same reason most do: It was overwhelmed by water. Almost five inches of rain fell in the area in the previous two days”

That was the same storm front that dumped over 5 inches of rain in my neck of the woods before it got to Michigan. It washed out a fence behind my house (there’s creek right next to my house that filled up quickly) and I had my neighbor’s cows in my yard the next morning when I got up.

Cows can sure mess up your lawn when the ground is saturated with rain.

Well, at least it was only a fence that washed out, and not a dam.

May 24, 2020 2:25 am

Visible circulation blockade over the North Atlantic.
There will be more rain on the Great Lakes.
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May 24, 2020 9:51 am

The dam failure is horrendous for those affected, but another problem happening in Michigan is the erosion of sand from Lake Michigan shore line causing numerous homes to fall into to lake. As noted in an earlier post the low lake levels were of concern, but now the record high levels are of concern. People who want to save there homes have difficult times trying to get all the needed permits.

Whoever wished for the rain to fill the lakes can stop any time.

Al Miller
May 24, 2020 10:40 am

Engineers say most dams in the United States, designed decades ago, are unsuited to a warmer world and stronger storms.”

I didn’t read past this stupidity. It doesn’t even state that storms are getting stronger- because of course it’s demonstrably true they are not, so the statement and everything following is fear mongering garbage behind a political agenda.

Mike Kelter
May 25, 2020 7:19 am

I’m just another Dam engineer. . .

The Michigan Dams failed because the spillway gates were closed, NOT because of excess rainfall and NOT because of insufficient spillway capacity.

Do you want to know why?

The dams were delicensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) which prevented the dam owners from having kilowatts generated from the dam dispatched onto the grid. FERC delicensed the dams because of inadequate spillway capacity, which is defined as the capacity to flow 100% of the PFM (probable maximum flood). At both of the dams, the upstream basins would need to see 19 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period to achieve PFM. According to NOAA data, only 6 inches of rain fell in the 72 hours preceding the dam failure. Way short of the PFM.

When FERC delicensed the dam for electrical generation (and subsequently recommended lowering the water levels in the lake by 8 feet), the State of Michigan stepped in and forced the owners (Boyce Hydro Power, LLC) to raise the lake levels to protect a certain species of freshwater mussel. At that instant the State of Michigan assumed responsibility for the operations and maintenance of the dam, but did not provide oversight to ensure public safety of the people downstream.

I guess they were too busy busting errant barbers.

If you watch the videos very closely, you can see that very little water (relative to the upstream head conditions) was passing through the spillway or the overflows, and if you a really observant you can see the spillway gates were closed, which makes no sense when you’re had 6 inches of rain.

Now that the dams have been breached, my guess is that the mussels Governor Whitmer was trying to protect are now going to die. The people who own property on the lakes will not see water at their boat docks for many years to come, as somebody will need to buy the dam from Boyce Hydro, pull permits to rebuild the dam, do the construction and refill the reservoir. The people downstream probably did not have flood insurance, so they will never be made whole from their loss.

This is another real tragedy that was unnecessarily caused by a tryannical government.

Mike Barr
Reply to  Mike Kelter
May 26, 2020 9:14 pm

Mike Kelter. In your summary you mention that the flood gates were closed during a 6” rainfall event into the dam catchment. This sounds more like a ‘dam management’ issue.
Interesting comparison with shoddy dam management of Brisbane’s (Queensland, Australia) Wivenhoe water supply dam during an extreme rainfall (2016? Summer) event immediately following a long period of drought & low water levels. Water held in dam & left to build to dangerous levels that eventually had to be released, producing downstream disasterous flooding.
Similar scenario with Townsville’s (Nth Qld) Ross River dam water level-release management during the Feb 2019 rainfall event. Again disasterous flooding.

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