Water runs over the breast of the Wilmore Dam, causing fear in the people below
… was it fear mongering or political power?
I am re-reading David McCullough’s definitive story of the 1889 Johnstown Flood right now, so when I heard about the situation with the Wilmore Dam, it was eerily similar to McCullough’s narrative.
The situation surrounding the Wilmore Dam on Wednesday in central Cambria County caused thousands of people to be evacuated from their homes on Wednesday because of the torrential rain that is the remnants of Ida.
In fact, the National Weather Service caused a sensation in the county when it reported that the dam had “broken.” They later had to retract that report, but the fear was still there.
However, reporting noted that the dam has had a checkered inspection record. In fact, it was downright puzzling how it went from a poor citation in September 2020 to a good one a month later.
According to reporting by Bruce Siwy of the Somerset Daily American,
Wilmore Dam was built in 1908 and is owned by the Cambria Somerset Authority. It was rated poor in a September 2020 inspection with the condition detail “deficiency recognized."
The next month, however, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection found Wilmore Dam to be in generally good condition.
The state made these recommendations at the time and noted in a report there were some issues with the spillway in the past.
Bruce Siwy, “As dam hit capacity, residents near Johnstown, Pa., were
told to flee flood zone,” The Daily American, September 1, 2021
Report indicated deficiencies
Included in that report were some concerns that appear to be contradictory to the report that the dam is good,
Continue to operate the valves in the intake tower periodically to assure operability. The video inspection of the outlet pipes performed in 2019 showed some accumulation of debris in both pipelines, and the owner should consider ways of flushing the pipelines to remove this debris.
Continue to maintain the grassy area downstream from the embankment, as in previous years. The crest and upstream face are relatively maintenance free, but should be monitored for problems.
Continue to monitor areas of noted seepage on the downstream masonry face of the embankment, and consider maintenance of those masonry areas that exhibit excessive deterioration on the outer face.
Continue to monitor the condition of the channel downstream of the spillway. A minor earth slip was noted roughly 170 feet downstream of the emergency spillway in June 2019, and was observed again during the 2020 inspection. This slip is not a result of pipeline or spillway flows, and continuation of the slide will not impact the dam or appurtenances. The owner has discussed the situation with the PA Fish & Boat Commission, who are considering addressing this slip with a stream bank stabilization project. The slip has not propagated any further since the 2019 inspection.
Inspect the intake tower access bridge for structural issues and repaint those areas exhibiting signs of rust.
Bruce Siwy, The Daily American, September 1, 2021
What is the truth about the Wilmore Dam?
So, what is actually the condition of the Wilmore Dam? It is more than a century old, and while it is an important source of water, is it really dangerous?
Did the water authority flex its political muscle to have that report changed?
The people of Wilmore and surrounding areas have a right to know.