California dam emergency highlights Alabama dam safety

California dam emergency highlights Alabama dam safety
Alabama Power dams like the Thurlow Dam undergo regular inspections by a variety of entities. (Bernard Troncale / Alabama NewsCenter)

As thousands of northern California residents try to return home, could what happened at Oroville Dam happen here in Alabama?

Alabama Power operates 14 dams and officials say a robust inspection program keeps the focus on safety.

For Mike Jordan, it’s just the right thing to do.

“It’s critical,” said Jordan, Southern Division area manager with Alabama Power.

Jordan says Alabama Power has a long history with its dam inspection program, dating back over 50 years.

“Alabama Power is diligent in inspecting [and] making sure the facilities are safe, that any issue we see is immediately reported,” he said.

WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Every dam is inspected twice a week.

“They’re looking for anything unusual, whether it be seepage, whether it be something that doesn’t appear normal, they’re reporting all of those. So it’s an opportunity for us to lay eyes on that facility twice a week to make sure if there might be a small problem or maybe something that looks a little abnormal, that’s reported quickly,” Jordan said.

In addition to weekly checklists and inspections, annual surveys are conducted by a safety engineer and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“There are overlaps between our inspection, the inspections that the Energy Regulatory Commission is also doing as well as inspections from an outside third party,” Jordan said.

Officials say inspectors walk every inch of every dam and thanks in part to what they’re doing daily, weekly and annually, what happened in California is unlikely to happen here.

Once every five years, an independent outside expert conducts an exhaustive audit of the condition and stability of each dam.

Each of Alabama Power’s 14 hydroelectric facilities has an emergency action plan, including regular training exercises with area EMA offices.

“In the unlikely event that there’s a breach, the emergency action plan would put steps in place,” Jordan said. “Who do we call? The communication plan is one part of it. It also allows people to know the area impacted were there to be a failure.”

Residents that live and work near Thurlow Dam see these safety protocols first hand.

“They keep up with everything. I mean they inspect everything, they do their job,” said Genie Willoughby, who passes through the area to get to work each day.

In light of the situation in California, for folks like Jordan, the process is more than just a checklist.

“If there might be an issue, we catch it before it becomes a catastrophic issue,” he said.

 

This story originally appeared at WSFA-Channel 12 in Montgomery.

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