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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of November 12 - 18, 2003


Fish Creek Reservoir company must prove damís safety

Express Staff Writer

State dam safety inspectors have ordered a Carey reservoir company to prove that the 92-foot high Fish Creek Dam is still safe. The Idaho Department of Water Resources said the dam might need to be breached to prevent its possible failure due to severe deterioration.

State inspectors are ordering water shareholders to either breach the problematic Fish Creek Dam, northeast of Carey, or prove they can make needed upgrades. The Fish Creek Reservoir Co. has 30 days to provide a solution to Idaho Water Resources Director Karl Dreher. Otherwise, the order to breach the deteriorating dam will be given. Express photo by Willy Cook

Members of the Fish Creek Reservoir Company said the dam does need repairs, but that it is not a danger to the public.

"I probably live in the direct path (if the dam were to fail)," said former president of the Fish Creek Reservoir Company Shirl Reay, who has helped manage the dam for over 20 years. "But I am not losing any sleep."

Reay said the members of the reservoir company have had an understanding with IDWR that they had until 2006 to come up with a solution for making the latest improvements to the dam.

Last year IDWR required the Fish Creek Reservoir Company, owners of the dam, to install a special dam-failure warning system on Idaho state highway 20, which the reservoir company has done.

Reay said it has been working properly, but IDWR said tests have shown the system is less than 100 percent reliable at all times.

The next project the reservoir company had forthcoming was to make improvements to some of the shallow bays near the top of the dam.

"We were going to be making improvements to the noses where the buttresses hook onto the faces," Reay said.

IDWR officials said the 1,700-feet-long dam is not in imminent danger of failure provided the amount of water stored behind the structure in coming months is reduced by about two-thirds.

That means the dam should be filled to below the 67-foot mark. That amount would reduce the amount of water stored in the reservoir behind the dam to about 4,300-acre feet or one third of its rated capacity of more than 12,000-acre feet.

Reay said forcing the company to breach the dam with holes at the 67-foot mark would adversely impact the families who rely on the water and are the membership of the reservoir company. He also said the community cannot afford the $7 million price tag it would require to bring the dam up to IDWR standards for earthquake resistance and the water levels brought by a 100-year flood.

"(How) can you expect 35 families to come up with that kind of money?" Reay said.

The dam was built in 1921 and is a series of concrete arches anchored between concrete buttresses.

Reay said the dam has been maintained by spraying the surface with concrete in the deep bays of the buttresses. He says the company does work whenever they have money to put towards maintenance, but he fears this time the order will force money intended for maintenance to be spent on legal fees.

He said suggestions to IDWR for affordable improvements have been shot down as insufficient.

IDWR water resources hydrologist Bill Ondrechan, who remembers that the dam was first investigated in 1976 after the Teton Dam failure sent 80 billion gallons of water rushing through Rexburg, said IDWR is trying to prevent a similar problem in Carey.

An inspection of the dam in late August revealed continuing significant concrete deterioration. IDWR reports that holes have appeared in seven locations through two-feet thick concrete buttresses.

IDWR Director Karl J. Dreher signed the show cause order issued to the Fish Creek Reservoir Company on October 31. The order gives the reservoir company until November 30 to show why the dam should not be breached.



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