State lawmakers could reduce inspections for dams

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -South Carolina lawmakers are pushing a bill through the state Senate that would decrease the number of dams the state is required to regularly inspect.

“The idea is to give DHEC a bite they can actually handle,” State Senator Paul Campbell said.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control currently inspects more than 2,300 dams in South Carolina.

Dams are classified as high, significant or low-hazard based on how much life would be lost or property would be damaged if the dam were to fail.

This bill would only stop inspectors from evaluating low-hazard dams, which is about 1,600.

“We’re not saying the other dams are not dangerous,” Campbell said. “We’re saying let’s prioritize the dams with high-hazard and class two that damage significant property below it. Let’s get those done and then we’ll look at the other ones."

South Carolina has seen several dams fail during storms in recent years, causing significant problems for the Midlands especially.

There were breaches at 11 dams in South Carolina during Hurricane Florence, according to DHEC officials.

Several conservation advocacy groups are pushing back on the bill, arguing the state should be increasing dam inspections and regulations, if anything.

“Rolling back dam safety protections is tone-deaf and ridiculous in light of the catastrophic dam failures over the last four years," Executive Director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina John Tynan said. “People died, homes were destroyed and roads washed away. The Senate should be working to protect people from failing dams, not finding exemptions and rollbacks that put more of the South Carolina public at risk.”

But Campbell said he disagrees.

“Most of those low-hazard dams, if they breach they go into a wetlands, they go into a swamp, they go into a pasture because there’s nothing below them,” Campbell said.

The bill recently moved through a committee and now goes on to the full Senate floor for a vote.

Campbell said the bill will be changed before the Senate takes a vote.

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