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Fluvanna draining derelict dam as millions of gallons pile up behind debris

Three months of heavy snow, rain and resulting debris plugged and filled a derelict Fluvanna County dam slated for removal, forcing county and state officials to start pumping water out of it before the dam collapses.

State officials were notified by an agent of the property owners on Monday that the dam, built around 1969 and which had long ago leaked its 11-acre basin, had refilled in the past few months. With the dam’s structural issues, officials are concerned the dam could burst and send millions of gallons of water downstream.

“For the last couple of decades, the dam has not held water,” said Justin Deel, regional engineer for dam safety with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. “The family members, who do not live in the area, have been making plans to dismantle the dam, but in the meantime something occurred that plugged up the dam and it began to hold water again.”

As with many dams on private property, there is little information available with regards to size, volume and construction details. Deel estimated that the dam reservoir is now near its capacity at 192 acre feet of water.

That equals about 62.5 million gallons.

The state received the required approval from the governor’s office late Monday to allow the county to enter private property and begin pumping water out of the dam. The pumping is expected to continue through Tuesday until the water level can be lowered to where the dam wall can be safely dismantled.

Deel said the dam was built with corrugated metal drainage structure that, over time, rusted and collapsed. Water leaking around the structure is what caused the dam reservoir to originally drain over time.

The concern now is that whatever debris has clogged the leak will give loose under the pressure of the freshly filled reservoir behind it.

“Fluvanna County got a pump out there [Monday] night and it has gone down a few inches since then,” Deel said. “They’re going to bring out some more pumps today. Ultimately, we’re going to breach the dam, but we have to get pumped down to a safe level first.”

Kelly Belanger Harris, Fluvanna County Assistant Administrator, said that the county sheriff’s office has notified homeowners in the area, even though the Department of Conservation and Recreation found no homes in the inundation area should the dam collapse.

The Virginia Department of Transportation closed Route 656/Bremo Road from the intersection with Route 657/Bremo Bluff Road to the 1400 block of Bremo Road in case the dam breaks before it can pumped and dismantled.

Holman Creek runs near the dam and through wooded areas toward the James River. Maps indicate few residences in the area, but the creek crosses Bremo Bluff Road and runs near the decommissioned power units of the Bremo Bluff Power Station.

A large ash pond that was once on the property has been drained and the ash buried as part of a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality action.

“We are monitoring the situation with the McIver Lake dam in Fluvanna County and are working closely with the county and state agencies,” Dominion officials said in prepared statement. “Safety is always our top priority, and we are taking the necessary precautions at Bremo Power Station and with other infrastructure to protect people and the environment.”


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