Late on March 18, the much anticipated Rodman/Kirkpatrick Dam inspection report was finally released. While the report indicates the dam is not at risk of impending failure, the dam was reclassified in the report from low hazard to high hazard.
FEMA describes high hazard as “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.” The 2022 report confirms what was revealed in previous inspections that over 500 properties would be inundated by four feet of water in the event of a catastrophic dam failure.
The report also indicates that additional analysis is needed in several important areas to provide a complete assessment of the condition of the dam and the probability of failure in the future. The consultants’ recommendations include a more thorough assessment of the dam gates to determine the extent of corrosion and overall condition by “a qualified hydraulic steel structural engineer” and an underwater inspection of the dam’s foundation for what is called undermining. In addition, an upstream portion of the spillway and manatee barrier could not be inspected until a significant number of logs and debris could be removed.
The logs and debris could clog the spillway bays and restrict discharge capacity causing the reservoir “to surcharge and overtop the embankment during a heavy rain event.” A similar scenario could also occur if the vertical lift gates don’t operate properly.
As a result, the Free the Ocklawaha Coalition science team continues to recommend an immediate drawdown of the reservoir to allow for a more comprehensive assessment of the condition of the dam and to avoid the risk of downstream flooding to homes in Welaka. This is very important due to the upcoming hurricane season that is fast approaching, and the fact that further analysis of the dam is required.
In addition to providing added downstream dam safety, drawdowns allow the submerged springs and natural channel of the Ocklawaha to reemerge and help naturally reduce the invasive plant growth without the use of harmful chemicals. The drawdowns also provide visitors with an insight into what restoration might entail. The last drawdown resulted in an 81% increase in visitation to the Ocklawaha and the area surrounding the dam.
What can you do?
We still need your help: contact Governor DeSantis and ask him to call for an immediate drawdown of the reservoir and to support restoration of the Ocklawaha River. As TaxWatch indicated in its analysis, restoration is the best option for taxpayers in the long-run.
The Governor must ensure the safety of hundreds of downstream residents, while providing some relief to the St. Johns River’s disappearing submerged grasses. It is clear that breaching the dam and restoring the river will reap tremendous environmental benefits for Silver Springs, the Ocklawaha, and the St. Johns and outstanding economic opportunities for Putnam County and the entire region.
The science, economic analysis, and public polling all support a free-flowing Ocklawaha. Restoration can’t wait.