Daily Archives: 12/15/2005

Ozark Dam Bursts

Well here’s an exciting bit of news: The Taum Sauk Dam burst yesterday morning, sending a torrent of water down the Black River and over Johnson’s Shut-Ins, near Lesterville in southeastern Missouri. The upper lake at the Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Plant burst early Wednesday morning, causing floods and washing away several homes. The park superintendent’s house at Johson Shut-Ins State Park was completely washed away, sending the superintendent and his family adrift in the park. Rescue workers plucked him, his wife and three children from trees in the park. The three kids were rushed to Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis, and the entire family suffered from exposure to the cold weather in wet clothes.

Upper Taum Sauk Lake, completely drained and awaiting refilling: photo from Daily Journal website
The Taum Sauk Hydroelectric Plant is used by electrical utility Ameren/UE to generate electricity for St. Louis during peak demand. The facility consists of two lakes, a 300 acre lower lake and a 50 acre upper reservoir. During hours of peak electrical demand, the waters of the upper lake are drained through a mile long underground tunnel past hydroelectric generators. Later, after demand has slacked off, the water is pumped back up the tunnel to refill the upper reservoir. The plant was constructed in 1963 and passed a safety inspection on August 25th.

photo from Daily Journal website
Now, I’ve been up to the top of Proffit Mountain to gawk at this lake a couple times, and every time I’ve visited I was appalled at the amount of leakage coming out of that lake. It’s basically a big rock pile on top of a mountain and it leaks continuously. But the leaks weren’t the cause of the berm’s failure. Apparently the automated systems that refill the upper reservoir failed to shut off and the dang thing overflowed like a really big bathtub. And all that overflowing water eroded the berm, causing a 600 foot collapse of the retaining wall.

As it is, folks are counting their blessings in Lesterville. If the lower dam had given way too, the entire town could have been washed away.