Residents look at a flooded street along the Tittabawassee River, after several dams breached, in downtown Midland, Michigan, U.S., May 20, 2020. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, declared a state of emergency for central Michigan on Tuesday, following intense rain at the beginning of the week. Two dams along the Tittabawassee River failed due to the high waters. As of 4pm local time on Wednesday, the Edenville and Sanford dams had collapsed.

The Tittabawassee River is expected to rise as high as 38 feet on Wednesday, passing the previous record of 33.89 feet set in 1986. Gov. Whitmer warned that downtown Midland, downstream from the two failed dams, could be under 9 feet of water by midday Wednesday. 

As of Wednesday, 10,000 residents were evacuated from central Michigan. Additional evacuations could still take place, as a pike in Poseville “broke loose” early Tuesday. Gov. Whitmer confirmed that all regulations and guidelines put in place in response to the coronavirus were temporarily lifted into order to allow residents to evacuate to shelters or the homes of friends or family.

Gov. Whitmer promised there will be an investigation into what exactly caused the dam failures and a review into “every legal recourse that we have,” acknowledging that the shortfalls of the dams were previously known. A complaint filed in 2018 against Boyce Hydro Power, which runs the Edenville dam, shows issues with the dam’s spillway dating as far back as 1999. The flooding could have a wider environmental impact as it approaches the Dow Chemical plant and Superfund toxic-cleanup site downriver.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Dam history: Man’s dream from century ago results in natural disaster today – Midland Daily News – 5/20/2020
What began as a young man’s well-intentioned dream more than a century ago has resulted in tragedy for the Midland area in 2020. […] “Failure of the Edenville Dam is considered the No. 1 risk to Midland County and its residents, according to the county’s 2002 Emergency Management Capability Assessment,” Lackey wrote.

A predictable catastrophe in Michigan – The Week – 5/20/2020
How do you declare a state of emergency when a similar order is already in effect? What does it mean to tell people to shelter indefinitely with friends and relations whom it had previously been a misdemeanor even to visit? How do you enforce social distancing in makeshift shelters, or put evacuees up in hotels that in many cases were already closed? These are some of the questions that thousands of people will learn the answers to in central Michigan, where flooding has led to the failure of multiple dams along the Tittabawassee River.

Feds revoked Edenville Dam license over fears it could not survive major flood – Detroit News – 5/20/2020
The energy commission (FERC), which regulates U.S. power generation, notified the dam’s previous owner as far back as 1999 that it needed to increase capacity of the Edenville dam’s spillways to prevent a significant flood from overcoming the structure. FERC subsequently notified the dam’s new owner, Boyce Hydro Power LLC, when the license transferred in 2004. By June 2017, the commission cracked down, citing the owner’s “longstanding failure to address the project’s inadequate spillway capacity at this high hazard dam.”

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

Senator Dayna Polehanki on Twitter, 5/20/2020: My heart goes out to Sen. Stamas and his district. To be in an unprecedented pandemic followed by a record setting flood is unthinkable. As Michiganders, we must band together to support one another during these difficult times. Stay safe, Midland.

Congressman Tim Ryan on Twitter, 5/20/2020: All I know is in the wealthiest country in the world, we shouldn’t be living in fear that our dams/bridges could fall at any moment. While Sen McConnell focuses only on confirming conservative judges, our country is literally & figuratively falling apart.

Dane Wilcox on Twitter, 5/20/2020: The dam has a history of breaking safety regulations back to 2004. I propose we come up with a program that would invest in ensuring safe infrastructure across the country. There is a pretty good plan I read at https://t.co/3EKYhsGPKi. @RepRashida?

Mark Knoller on Twitter, 5/20/2020: Despite dam calamities in Michigan, Pres Trump still going to the state tomorrow to visit Ford plant in Ypsilantil. Says he’ll visit the dam disaster sites at an appropriate time. Doesn’t think he can do both tomorrow.

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