No Plan for Most MO High-Hazard Dams
But, that may not be the whole story.
"One of the things that we're always concerned about is something we call seepage," Clark added. "That's where water moving through is breaking out on the backside."
The last inspection found minor seepage, so inspectors told the dam owner to develop a maintenance program to control it. But, this dam has a much larger problem: no emergency action plan, although the law requires it.
"People need to think about what's going to happen in an emergency, no matter what happens, because you don't want to take time to think as much as you just want to be able to react," said Glenn Lloyd, Missouri dam inspector.
In fact, most Missouri high-hazard dams don't have an emergency action plan: only 18 out of more than 250.
"We're not collecting them and actually checking them to make sure they are up to date and valid," admitted Jim Alexander, chief dam safety inspector.
So, what can happen when a dam fails? When the Taum Sauk Reservoir ruptured last December, a billion gallons of water flooded Johnson's Shut-ins State Park and destroyed everything in the flood's path.
"If you can make a trip down there and see what the power of water is, it was really an awesome site to see what transpired there with the upper reservoir," said . "It is one of the most powerful forces in nature right now is the failure of a dam and the release of that water. And really, nothing is going to stand in its way."
And, those are just the regulated dams.
"What about the ones that aren't regulated? That's sort of the great unknown," responded . "I can't really tell you with any degree of certainty how any of those dams fare."
Out of more than 4,000 dams in Missouri, the state regulates only 653 under the current law. But, lawmakers are considering a bill to lower the height requirement from 35 feet to 25 feet, so more dams like the one at Columbia's Fairview Lake would be inspected.
The proposed law would also consider how much water the dam supports, which the current law does not. Existing law also exempts so-called agriculture dams or farm ponds, like the Boone County dam north of Columbia. But, would you call this a farm pond?
"A significant amount of damage would result if that dam were to fail," admitted .
However, officials said the vast majority of Missouri dams, like the Hulen Lake dams, are safe. They say only nine, like one in Taney County, have severe deficiencies.