Engineers make preps for expected Oktibbeha County Lake dam breach

Updated: Jan. 16, 2020 at 10:35 AM CST
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OKTIBBEHA COUNTY, Miss. (WCBI) – Engineers believe it’s no longer a matter of if the Oktibbeha County Lake dam will break, but when.

A voluntary evacuation has been issued for more than 200 residents near Riviera Road and Walter Bell Road.

Tuesday morning, engineers spotted a mudslide on County Lake Road, meaning the levee could breach.

County engineers said they discovered issues there through an impromptu inspection early Tuesday morning and have since been on high alert.

Oktibbeha County Engineer Clyde Pritchard said the lake’s water level has risen over a foot since Tuesday.

“This area will be inundated within minutes. This is not, you’ll see water the next day or the next day or the next day. You’ve got a tremendous volume of water here. It’s going to leave here in a hurry if this dam breaks,” said Pritchard.

This excess water has put a strain on the levee. The potential for more heavy rainfall this week puts a strain on dam engineers.

“Very little rainfall makes a dramatic rise in the lake. So, if we get three to five inches, we could expect several feet of increase in the lake level,” said Pritchard.

Pritchard said the same spot on the levee almost failed in 2017.

“The prior slide was, again, about 1,100 to 1,200 feet in length. It was on the lakeside as opposed to the backside where it sheared literally to the centerline of the roadway,” said Pritchard.

Engineers said issues with the dam could be from its original construction coupled with erosion.

“The criteria we have for dams, particularly high hazard dams we have now, is a lot different than it was when these lakes were built probably back in the 60s,” said Pritchard.

District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard said a breach could affect up to 250 people.

“We do want people to realize this is a potentially dangerous situation. We want them to be ready if we make that call to go ahead and evacuate and not wait around,” said Howard.

If seepage and mudslides continue, that call could come sooner than later.

“We’re monitoring this slide, and we’ve set somewhat benchmarks for levels elevation wise or plan wise for say if it’s reaching up into the roadway. If it reaches those, we’re going to ask that the local law enforcement, sheriff’s department, Sheriff Gladney, to initiate a mandatory evacuation,” said Pritchard.

Engineers are currently doing all they can to lower the water level in the lake and reduce the strain on the levee.

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