Lisa Knobel: We need a plan for if Dillon Dam fails |

Lisa Knobel: We need a plan for if Dillon Dam fails

As I write this letter, I’m looking from my front window directly at the Dillon Dam. Having worked at a nuclear power plant where emergency planning is a requirement and the plan is exercised annually, I often wonder how far up on Ptarmigan I should run if the Dam were breached. In the 11 years, I have lived in sight of the dam, I have never once received communication about an emergency plan or heard of an exercise.

In the nuclear power industry, the plant’s owners are required to maintain an emergency planning zone (EPZ) for a 10-mile radius around the plant. Within that zone, they are required to work with local officials to ensure they have adequate communications and disaster relief equipment. The planning and equipment is paid for by the plant. Every home and business receives an annual information packet that describes the plan – notification procedures, protective measures, evacuation routes and evacuation facilities. Every hotel room has a card on the door describing the same information. Every two years a full exercise is conducted which includes participation by every organization involved, up to and including the governor of the state and FEMA.

Summit County just announced its updated emergency plan. But, looking into that plan, there is little discussion about the dam except that Denver Water maintains a dam and has some kind of plan. I’ve heard that a failure could impact the Colorado River system to Grand Junction and beyond. I don’t think it’s the fault of Summit County. Denver Water is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which sets its emergency planning requirements. It seems to me a failure of the Dillon Dam could be far more catastrophic than a nuclear disaster, yet the level of cooperation and planning is not being performed by Denver Water. How do we hold Denver Water accountable to keep us informed if the county is not able to make them do it?

In light of the recent arrest in Texas of a terrorist who had some Colorado dams on a list of targets, we’ve got to raise our level of concern over the Dillon Dam. To be able to cause such widespread destruction, one would think that the Dillon Dam makes an attractive, high-value target. Denver Water needs to communicate with the county and downstream communities the failure times, inundation levels and the evacuation routes in the remote case of such an emergency. If you live downstream of the Dillon Dam, you too should be considering what to do in the event the dam is breached. It would probably not hurt to think where is the closest high ground that you can run to the quickest. I’m not too sure Denver Water is concerned about our safety.

Yes, catastrophic dam failures are extremely rare, but that’s the point of emergency planning: to be prepared for the most extreme disaster so that the even smallest scenario has a safe outcome.

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