Franklin County

Dix Dam safety a concern in Frankfort

A former employee of the state Division of Water says more should be done to ensure the safety of Dix Dam, a 1920s-era structure that impounds Herrington Lake.

Jim Daniel, a retired enforcement agent, argues that the reservoir should be drained so that the upstream face of the dam can be inspected. He said numerous engineers have said that is the only way the dam's structural integrity can be assured.

"According to state inspection reports and numerous engineers who have known the dam best over the years, we don't really know (the dam's condition) until you drain the lake and look at it," Daniel said.

But the state Department for Environmental Protection and Kentucky Utilities, which operates the dam, said it is inspected regularly and monitored daily.

"We do think the dam is in good working order," said Chris Whelan, spokeswoman for E.ON U.S., the parent company of KU. "We inspect that on a regular basis and we feel confident that the dam is in good shape. We also do underwater inspections to make sure that the face of the dam is OK. The state obviously inspects it every two years."

When it was built in the 1920s, Dix Dam was the world's largest rock-filled dam. It produces about 24 megawatts of hydroelectric power, as opposed to the more than 700 megawatts produced by the nearby E.W. Brown Generating Station, which is fired by coal and natural gas.

The dam's construction created 35-mile-long Herrington Lake, which is bordered by Garrard, Boyle and Mercer counties.

The lake supplies drinking water to Danville, which in turn supplies water to Perryville, Junction City and Hustonville.

Dick Brown, spokesman for the state Department for Environmental Protection, said in a statement that the dam "has been routinely inspected and Kentucky Utilities, the dam owner, continues to perform routine maintenance to repair deficiencies."

But Daniel said the state inspections of the dam are "actually a joke." He cited a disclaimer on state inspection reports that says "Note: The Division of Water does not intend this report to be taken as an assurance that no other problems exist at this site or that the dam is safe ...."

Daniel said he has never inspected Dix Dam, "although I did a lot of dam-safety cases in the enforcement branch."

He was scheduled to discuss the safety of the dam Thursday night with a neighborhood group in Frankfort. He said he and others have been studying the safety of Dix Dam for about six months.

The safety of Dix Dam is of particular concern to Frankfort. A couple of Frankfort residents sued KU after a 1978 flood routed 2,000 residents and caused $50 million in damage. A lawsuit claimed that KU had aggravated the flood by releasing Herrington Lake water through Dix Dam, 50 miles upstream from Frankfort.

KU argued that it didn't cause the flood — heavy rains did. The suit was dismissed.