East Lake dam could be called 'High Hazard.' What does that mean?

Chad Frey
The Kansan

This year there has been work to update hazard designation on the dam at Harvey County East Park, work that has been underway for a couple of months and continues to move forward. 

East Park is located at 314 N. East Lake Rd. in Newton.

During that work, the dam was initially classified as a "high hazard dam." That designation appeared in the draft of a preliminary report presented to the Harvey County park board. 

"We are still waiting to hear, and get the final report, from the NRCS," said Anthony Swartzendruber, county administrator. "We did find some errors in the report that they need to make changes on. It is preliminary and not final."

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is in the middle of a project reviewing all dams of the type constructed at Harvey County East Park — labeled as a PL-566 structure. Those structures were constructed under The Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act. Working with the NRCS on the hazard designation and report is the Whitewater River Watershed. 

The dam was inspected during the creation of the report, and the structure of the dam was found to be in "very good condition," according to Swartzendruber. 

"It has been well maintained over the years, and above all, it is very safe," Swartzendruber said. 

According to ingrastructrereportcard.org, a dam designated as a "high hazard dam" does not refer to the condition of the dam — but is a "dam in which failure or mis-operation is expected to result in loss of life and may also cause significant economic losses, including damages to downstream property or critical infrastructure, environmental damage, or disruption of lifeline facilities."

As of 2019, there were approximately 15,600 dams in the United States that are classified as high-hazard structures.

There are several homes downstream from the East Park dam, which is why that designation arose. 

In the preliminary report reviewed by the county, the NRCS stated the dam is currently listed as a "significant hazard" dam and that it will "most likely change" to a high hazard designation. 

"Based on changes that came from the state and federal government, that is why we are expecting an increase from signiricant to high," Swartzendruber said. "... Right now we need to wait until we have a final report to see what the final version says."

Harvey County East Park hosts a 314 acre lake created by the dam, with 1,300 acres of property that can be used for recreation including camping, fishing and limited hunting.