The chance of a catastrophic dam failure is so high at a central Ohio lake that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recommended the popular recreational reservoir be drained until repairs can be made.
The Corps was brought in by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to assess the safety of the dam at Buckeye Lake, about 30 miles east of Columbus. The agency recommended that the lake be drained or the 180-year-old dam be replaced immediately to prevent potential failure.
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The report released Wednesday said a dam failure could endanger the lives of 3,000 people who live and work near the lake.
The state says it will keep the nearly 5-square-mile lake at lower winter levels until it can evaluate the report. That could have huge consequences because most boating wouldn't be possible with reduced water levels, causing a ripple effect on tourism at the marinas, bars, restaurants and other shops in the surrounding villages of Buckeye Lake, Thornville and Millersport.
The report from the federal agency said the structural integrity of the 4.1-mile earthen dam on the north side of the lake has been "significantly" weakened by the more than 370 homes and other structures that have been sunk into it.
Portions of the dam have been dug away to accommodate pools and patios, as well as utilities and drainage systems for the structures built into it, the report said. Signs of weakness are evident, such as significant seepage, persistent wet areas and structural deterioration.
A catastrophic dam failure could inundate areas as far as 2 miles downstream, including a section of Interstate 70.