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FOX43 Finds Out: Hundreds of Pennsylvania’s dams are considered “High Hazard”

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP, Pa -- The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulates 3,400 dams across the state.

The American Society of Civil Engineers put out an infrastructure report card for the Pennsylvania and those dams got a grade of C-.

"There's still a need for funding and I think that's why we got a lower grade," said Roger Adams, the Chief of the Dam Safety Division with the Department of Environmental Protection.

He says 800 dams are considered high hazard.

"Meaning if they were to fail, there would likely be loss of life associated with that failure."

Something that was a fear on the other side of the country earlier this year.

The Oroville Dam spillway in California was having issues, prompting that state to give evacuation orders to tens of thousands of people.

Adams says that scare on the west coast has some people asking about the safety of dams here in Pennsylvania.

"The state has been getting a lot of questions. It's certainly an eye opener."

While Adams says the dams in Pennsylvania are much smaller than that one out west, there are still concerns.

"During tropical storm Lee in Lancaster County, we had a situation like California but on a lot smaller scale."

He says the last time people were asked to evacuate their homes in Pennsylvania was near the Speedwell Forge Dam in Elizabeth Township just a few years ago.

Sandy and Jerry Davis remember it well.

They were some of the hundreds of people asked to leave their home back in 2012, out of fear that the Speedwell Forge dam wouldn't make it through the storm.

The Davis' decided to stay though.

"We weren't afraid because I have lived through this my whole entire life and I have seen water that was worse than that," said Sandy.

Everything turned out fine for them.

Other homes near Speedwell Forge Lake and Hammer Creek did experience flooding.

Because of that flooding, the DEP says there was a $6 million rehabilitation project on the dam to repair the spillway.

Now, people who live near the dam say they feel safer.

Sandy said, "I am hoping that we don't have any more problems with high water."

The couple knew, at the time, the dam was considered high hazard.

That's because of a state requirement.

"Dam owners are required to post notices down stream of their dam to let people know they are living in an area that could be impacted by a dam failure," said Adams.

The DEP says if a dam is considered high hazard it needs to be inspected regularly.

"The owners are required to inspect dams once every three months, plus every year have a professional engineer do a report on the inspection and DEP also does an inspection once a year on the high hazard dams."

Adams says Pennsylvania is a state with some of the most dams across the county and that the life of a dam is about 50 years.

"Our dam building years in Pennsylvania was between 1950-1980," said Adams.

Meaning, some of our state's dams are getting closer to that 50 year mark, if not older.

The DEP says there is just not enough money to fix all of them right now, adding that it's important for people who live near dams to come up with a plan.

"Know the risks. Be aware of the dams that are around you."

FOX43 tried to get a list of the high hazard dams in central Pennsylvania, but were told we could not get or release that information for security purposes.