LAKELAND, Fla. - A more than two-year investigation by The Associated Press has found scores of dams nationwide in even worse condition, and in equally dangerous locations. They loom over homes, businesses, highways or entire communities that could face life-threatening floods if the dams don't hold.
According to the report, there are close to 2,000 "high hazard" dams across 44 states and Puerto Rico, and two of those dams are in Polk County. The first is the Meadow View Lake Dam in Lakeland, and the second is a dam in Winter Haven just off of Winter Lake Road and Thornhill Road.
Bridgette Cruz and her boys hike to one of them all the time; the Meadow View Lake Dam is in her backyard.
“It could be better maintained, I’ve never seen it this bad,” she said.
The report said both are high hazard dams in poor condition, meaning a failure is likely to result in people being killed. Experts said the problem is a lot of these dams were constructed in the early 20th century and were not built up to today's standards.
“We do have a lot of children and animals and pets in this neighborhood...I can see that affecting it if this gets out of control.” Cruz said.
Fixing the at-risk dams are not as easy as it sounds. It would require completely draining the body of water around these dams, possibly destroying local economies developed around those bodies. There are roughly 90,000 dams in the U.S. Experts said it would cost around $70 billion to make sure they're all up to par.
Deaths from dam failures have declined since a series of catastrophic collapses in the 1970s prompted the federal and state governments to step up their safety efforts. Yet about 1,000 dams have failed over the past four decades, killing 34 people, according to Stanford University's National Performance of Dams Program.
Built for flood control, irrigation, water supply, hydropower, recreation or industrial waste storage, the nation's dams are over a half-century old on average. Some are no longer adequate to handle the intense rainfall and floods of a changing climate. Yet they are being relied upon to protect more and more people as housing developments spring up nearby.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.