Pumps acquired to help drain lake, ease pressure on dam

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — Pumps to help take some of the pressure off a dam that's perilously close to failing are on site to help drain Oktibbeha County Lake.

The pumps arrived Friday after a contract for their rental was agreed upon with Birmingham, Alabama-based Herc Rentals, The Starkville Daily News reported.

The details of the contract have not been made public, but it was authorized due to an emergency proclamation the Board of Supervisors unanimously enacted Thursday in anticipation of Saturday's forecasted rain.

Mississippi has one of the highest numbers of dams that pose dangers and are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, according to a two-year investigation by The Associated Press.

A breach of the dam would endanger about 130 properties and nine highways downstream.

According to the National Weather Service, the area around the lake's failing dam could receive one-fourth of an inch of rain (0.6 centimeters) on Saturday, though watershed from an 18-mile (29-kilometer) radius will also contribute to rising water levels at the lake.

Emergency Management Agency Director Kristen Campanella said additional supplies were being brought in from Mobile, Alabama and Louisiana. Light towers were installed to allow emergency crews to install the pumps.

As part of the plan to drain the lake, County Lake Road will be closed indefinitely to allow the pumps to continually move 25,000 gallons of water every minute, the fastest rate the lake could safely be drained without flooding areas downstream, according to County Engineer Clyde Pritchard's calculations.

At that rate, estimations have the process of draining the lake taking anywhere from 22 to 24 days.

The plan to drain the lake has an ultimate goal of allowing county officials to demolish a "riser" at the bottom of the lake, which will prevent the lake from filling with water again, alleviating pressure on the dam structure, which has experienced sliding land as a result of water seepage, and the failing dam.

Board President and District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery said it was unfortunate the county had to act so immediately but stressed that the safety of residents' lives and property was the number one concern.

“How do you put a price tag on somebody's life?" Montgomery said. "When I was sworn in as supervisor, I promised to put the safety of the residents first.”

County officials have been inspecting the dam regularly to look for further signs of deterioration that would trigger a mandatory evacuation. One such sign would be if the sliding ground on the levee were to reach the pavement. Another would be if a continuous stream was observed running along the bottom of the levee. Both would signal that water was continuing to seep through the ground and washing it away.

Tuesday's emergency evacuation plan remains in effect if either of those signs were to be observed, with transportation from Mississippi State University and OCH Regional Medical Center on standby to help move people away from the area directly east of the dam.

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