In the coming year, Colorado’s dam inspectors will determine which pieces of infrastructure need repairs and reinforcements, partly in response to concerns over the effect of climate change.
The Denver Post reports that a recent federal study conducted alongside the University of Colorado helped induce an “atmospheric moisture factor” to be added to the state’s dam safety rules.
“In the past, we assumed a stationary climate. The methods that we used to determine rainfall were all backward-looking, at historic storms,” said the state’s director of dam safety, Bill McCormick, according to The Post. “Now it doesn’t seem that is the smartest way to do it anymore.”
The majority of dams in the United States are privately owned. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials found that nearly one-quarter of Colorado’s 1,763 state-regulated dams, nearly one-quarter have “high hazard” potential, meaning a potential loss of life if the dam were to fail.
State regulators can restrict the amount of water that dams can store out of caution.
Most recently, a 1982 dam failure in Rocky Mountain National Park killed three people. Colorado has had 87 other failures since 1848, according to a Stanford University study. Old mines in the West also serve as dams, holding hazardous waste intended for permanent storage. In Colorado, those sites receive monthly inspections and are built to withstand rain from 100-year storms.