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Michigan's U.S. Senators want more regulation for privately owned dams

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

Michigan’s two U.S. Senators are calling for more regulation of privately owned dams, in the wake of this week’s massive flood on theTittabawassee River.

Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters toured the flood zone Saturday by air and on the ground with local officials and FEMA’s regional administrator.

The failure of two privately owned dams Tuesday, after days of heavy rain, helped create therecord setting flood on the Tittabawassee River that forced thousands to evacuate, and damagedhomes, businesses, roads and bridges. 

The first dam to fail was the Edenville Dam, which contained Wixom Lake, on the border of Midland and Gladwin Counties.

For years, federal and state government regulators have tried to get the owner of the nearly 100 year old Edenville dam to upgrade it to better withstand major flooding.

“This owner slow walked and fought federal regulators...stonewalled for years,” says U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).   

Stabenow says a majority of dams in Michigan are privately owned.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) says this may have been preventable, but the answer to that will have to wait until there is a full investigation.

“We had a dam here that was failing for a number of years and was able to continue to fail for a number of years without substantive action.  That can’t happen again,” says Peters.

The dam's owner, Boyce Hydro, has fought to shift the blame for the dam’s failure on to state agencies that required it to raise the level of Wixom Lake.

With the dam’s collapse, Wixom Lake has drained away.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.