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Residents of Utah Town on Alert Over Crack in Dam

About 2K people in Panguitch are ready to evacuate if things worsen
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 11, 2024 1:00 PM CDT
Residents of Utah Town on Alert Over Crack in Dam
In this photo provided by the Utah Division of Water Rights, crews use heavy machinery to place boulders downstream of the cracked Panguitch Lake Dam to reinforce the wall, Wednesday, April 10, 2024, in Panguitch, Utah.   (Matt Call/Utah Division of Water Rights via AP)

Workers are trying to shore up a rural Utah dam after a 60-foot crack sent water pouring into a creek and endangering the 1,800 residents of a downstream town. State and local leaders don't think the Panguitch Lake Dam is in imminent danger of breaking open but have told residents to be prepared to evacuate if conditions worsen, per the AP. Emergency management officials passed out a list of evacuation procedures to worried residents at a Wednesday evening town meeting meant to mitigate panic.

"I can't say that the emergency situation is entirely averted, but I'm very, very encouraged by the progress we've made," Everett Taylor, an assistant state engineer for dam safety with the Utah Division of Water Rights, told residents of the southern Utah town. Lowering the reservoir to below the affected area will take several days, he said. An ice sheet on the reservoir had pushed up against the dam, causing the top to crack and tilt downstream, with water gushing through the opening, Taylor explained. His staff was able to relieve some of the pressure against the dam by making large cuts across the ice sheet. The ice has now pulled away, and the top of the dam has tilted back, he said.

Local officials discovered the fissure in the upper portion of the dam during an inspection Monday night, and state officials announced it to the public on Tuesday. The state has labeled it a level 2 breach risk—a designation in the middle of the three-prong scale that means there is potential for dam failure. If a breach occurs, state and local law enforcement will work with the Red Cross to evacuate Panguitch, which sits about 10 miles downstream from the dam. Another tiny town, Circleville, is farther downstream and faces a lower flood risk.

(More Utah stories.)

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