Accountability for the recent Hegben Dam failure have surfaced. Northwestern Energy is in the crosshairs. The Nov. 30th Dam Problem cut river flow suddenly impacting the fishery.
After a few weeks of investigation, here’s what we now know.
The problem was caused by a new broken part that operated the dam gate
Monitoring equipment that was recently installed to communicate and alert officials failed
No backup plan was in place for this type of failure.
This 100 plus year old dam was damaged in the 7.5 earthquake that created Quake Lake in 1959.
The dam has a history of breakdowns and challenges. A 2008 dam malfunction sent a flood of water downstream forcing evacuations. The flow was controlled by stacked railroad ties, that were blown out during the failure. Hardly modern engineering.
More modern and sophisticated technology needs to be in place. Immediate response plans need to be in place. Penalties can be a problem since the expenses will simply be passed on to energy users. Those responsible for this damage will not be ignored. Montana needs to address this problem and help to prevent future emergencies. Ironically, the Hegben Dam does not generate energy. The flow from Quake Lake is not regulated.
At the least, we lost this Falls Brown trout spawning generation. Other fish were also killed and lost. Fishing closures have fiscal repercussions. This problem was preventable. If the dam were to completely fail, residents downstream to Ennis are at risk.
Hopefully, businesses, agencies and the public will work together to prevent any future challenges.