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ASDSO to conduct independent investigation of Spencer Dam failure

Spencer Dam investigation

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) announces it will be conducting an independent investigation to identify the likely causes that contributed to the breach of Spencer Dam in north central Nebraska on March 14, 2019.

This investigation is being conducted on request from the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, the regulating authority over Spencer Dam. The independent investigation will compile information and lessons to be learned from the event with the goal of advancing the dam safety engineering profession.

Spencer Dam experienced a breach after a storm brought heavy rain to frozen ground, creating additional snowmelt and thawing of large sections of ice in and around the Niobrara River. There was extensive flood damage in the area, including downstream of the dam, and one person was swept away by the flood and is presumed deceased. The dam, originally constructed in 1927 to impound water for a 3-MW hydroelectric plant, is owned by the Nebraska Public Power District.

The team compiled by ASDSO has decades of dam safety engineering experience, with specific expertise in dam safety failure investigations, hydrology (including cold-weather hydrology), hydraulics (including cold-weather hydraulics) and ice and debris flow, and hydraulic structures.

The following experts were selected for the Spencer Dam Failure Independent Investigation Team:

  • Mark E. Baker, P.E, principal, DamCrest Consulting
  • Robert Ettema, P.E., Ph.D., Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, Colorado State University
  • Martin Teal, P.E., P.H., senior vice president, WEST Consultants
  • John Trojanowski, P.E., president, Trojanowski Dam Engineering

The investigation will proceed in three phases: data collection, analyses and completion of a publicly-available written report. The investigation is expected to take six months, although ASDSO says it is important that the team is given the necessary time needed and the patience of all stakeholders to do a thorough investigation.

“It is our goal that, through this investigation, we will be able to further industry knowledge to improve the dam safety industry best practices,” said Baker.

ASDSO is a national non-profit organization serving state dam safety programs and the broader dam safety community.

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