Dams Fail in Michigan Causing Catastrophic Flooding and Evacuations

An Emergency Within an Emergency

Approximately 10,000 people have been asked to evacuate their homes in Midland, Michigan, after two dams were breached. Midland is a city of about 42,000 citizens, approximately 140 miles north of Detroit.

Several tributaries converge into the Tittabawassee River in Midland, and two dams north and west of the city were breached late Tuesday. One dam has failed and another is imminent.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency for the county, telling citizens to evacuate. The Michigan National Guard has been deployed. Several shelters were opened in the area. The state remains under an emergency order due to the pandemic, and Whitmer urged residents to use social distancing and masks when possible. Teams are trying to screen citizens at emergency shelters for symptoms.

“In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately 9 feet of water,” the governor said. “We are anticipating an historic high water level.”

Both dams were built in the 1920’s, and were operated by private companies. In 2018 the state rated the Edenville dam in unsatisfactory condition and the Sanford dam in fair condition. Earlier this year, an agreement was reached to sell the dams to a contractor for the county over the next two years. State grant money had been secured for repairs.

In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the license of the company that operated the Edenville Dam due to non-compliance issues that included spillway capacity and the inability to pass the most severe flood reasonably possible in the area.

Midland is also home to Dow Inc. whose headquarters are housed along the river.

Dow said that “only essential Dow staff needed to monitor the situation and manage any issues as a result of the flooding remain on site.” Other companies with operations at Dow’s Midland complex include DuPont and Corteva Agriscience. The companies are working together on their response, a Dow spokesperson said.

Several sources:

ClickonDetroit, CNN, Bloomberg, and BridgeMI