ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -– Ledbetter Lake is missing something -- most of its water.
The lake, a few miles north of Rockingham, was drained last July after someone noticed a leak in the 133-year-old dam. When a state inspector got to the dam, he found a second leak. He didn’t think it would burst, but as a precaution, he ordered it to be emptied.
The dam at Ledbetter Lake is emblematic of the problems faced by many of the state’s dams -- problems that led the American Society of Civil Engineers to give the state’s dams a D grade in their 2013 Infrastructure Report Card, out Wednesday morning.
Overall, North Carolina’s infrastructure gets a C, but dams get the lowest grade for several reasons:
•North Carolina has more than 1,300 high hazard dams. A high hazard dam isn’t unsafe, rather it means that if it were to burst or fail, or if water overtops it, it could put major roads, property or lives in danger.
•The ASCE report says 10% of North Carolina’s high hazard dams are deficient.
•About a third (34%) of North Carolina’s high hazard dams don’t have emergency action plans (or EAPs), which spell out what to do in an emergency, and show what areas would be flooded.
“Our weakest point is our lack of emergency action plans for all of our high hazard dams,” said Steve McEvoy, North Carolina’s Dam Safety Engineer.
State law doesn’t require dam owners to file emergency action plans unless they’re building a new dam, or if they’re repairing an old one. The Ledbetter Dam didn’t have an EAP, but will be required to have one before the lake can be filled.
One bright spot: McEvoy says state law requires all high hazard dams in the state to be inspected every two years, but his inspectors are able to do it annually.
Frank Parker, who has a home on the lake, bought the dam. He and the other homeowners on the lake are trying to raise the $1.5 million they’ll need to fix the dam and fill the lake back up. Until then, their lakeside homes will have to get used to being much further away from the water.