Morris Sheppard Dam

Weatherford Democrat file photo

An aerial view of Morris Sheppard Dam, the Brazos River Authority’s oldest, completed in 1941, which received a fair rating.

Seven dams in Parker County and one in Palo Pinto County are rated as in poor condition under the state environmental agency’s Dam Safety Program, which ranks dams as in poor, fair or good shape.

The dams in Parker County are on the following reservoirs: Meeker Lake, built in 1959; Lake Mullet, built in 1955; Moore Lake, 1959; Millsap Lake, 1953; Horseshoe Lake, 1970; and Western and Canyon lakes, built respectively in 1970 and 1965.

The dam on Lake Weatherford, which was built in 1957, is rated in good condition, the highest

ranking.

Another major area dam, Possum Kingdom Lake’s 80-year-old Morris Sheppard Dam, is ranked in fair condition. It’s owner, the Brazos River Authority, has plans to elevate that grade.

Morris Sheppard is the fourth-oldest among the 72 dams in Parker and Palo Pinto counties.

The dam in Palo Pinto County with a ‘poor’ designation is Tucker Lake. Covering 16 acres, that reservoir is set to be the centerpiece of Palo Pinto Mountains State Park.

The dam is owned by the city of Strawn, where City Administrator Danny Miller and the city council have recently emerged from a journey spanning three years to remove overgrowth that prompted the poor rating.

No opening date is set for the state park, while the volunteer Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation works to raise $9 million toward that end.

Dams are exempt from the state inspections if they are smaller than 500 acre-feet, (about 163 million gallons; an acre-foot is the amount that would cover one acre one foot deep), and if they are on private property, are classified as low or significant hazard, outside of a city’s corporate limits and in a county of fewer than 350,000. They must meet all five criteria to be exempt.

Mark Ogden, technical specialist for the American Society of Dam Safety Officials, a Kentucky-based national training and advocacy group, said it’s critical to keep abreast of the condition of dams for a simple reason.

“If they fail, it can be devastating,” he said. “Like any other manmade structure, dams age, and especially if they are not well-maintained they can deteriorate.”

In Strawn, said Friday the city’s small public works crew began clearing the dam vegetation at Tucker Lake in late 2019 to address the state agency’s concern, but they swiftly realized places the four employees cleared would grow back while they cleared another spot.

The arrival of COVID either struck each of those employees or forced them to quarantine. Goats were brought in by fall 2020, and while they cleared the small brush that left the scrub oak, mesquite and cactus.

A plan for the contractor working roads in the new park to use its equipment at the dam was tried next, but the council decided by early this year the work was not moving fast enough for the council.

The city next hired a man with specialized equipment, Shane Roach, and Miller said Roach took care of 99 percent of the vegetation by a couple of weeks ago.

“Upon completion of that work, we have addressed what TCEQ rated as poor,” Miller said.

He said “a small amount of brush” remains at the water line, but it will be cleared once the full lake drops. The city also plans to address “small cracks that are seeping water” once the level falls, he added.

Ogden, with the dam safety organization, said government regulators should do more than evaluate dam safety. Dam owners must be made responsible to upgrade or repair subpar structures for the system to work, he said.

He was not familiar with Texas’ policy on enforcing dam safety standards.

Gary Rasp, a spokesman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, says the state environmental regulator sends dam owners a report with recommendations for addressing weak areas.

A plan of action is requested of those owners, Rasp wrote in an email to the Weatherford Democrat.

“Some owners respond and address the items noted and some do not due to lack of funds,” Rasp wrote. “We cannot provide that information on these (eight) dams without reviewing files.”

He directed the newspaper to file an open records request with a TCEQ division established for public information queries.

That open records request for the state reports, and dam owners’ responses, was sent Monday and remained pending at this story’s publication date, and the commission notified the newspaper the following week the records would cost $140 which the paper declined.

“Enforcement is an important part of a dam safety program,” Ogden with the national dam safety group said. “I think it’s true — that lack of funding is the biggest reason why dams don’t get upgraded and repaired. But enforcement can be a very important part of making sure dams are upgraded and repaired.”

The owner Possum Kingdom Lake is not waiting on state enforcement to enact upgrades to lift its Morris Sheppard dam from the fair category to good. Its owner, the Brazos River Authority, has its own inspection regimen apart from the state’s.

“The Brazos River Authority’s dam infrastructure continues to age, with Morris Sheppard Dam being our oldest, completed in 1941,” BRA Technical Services Manager Blake Kettler wrote in an email relayed through the authority’s public information office. “Given its age, we feel the ‘fair’ rating is an adequate assessment of the facility.”

BRA crews visually inspect authority facilities daily and more thoroughly assess them on a monthly, quarterly, annual and five-year schedule, Kettler said.

“Instrumentation is checked, verified and coordinated with internal and external engineers to confirm findings that are then provided to the TCEQ,” he said.

The authority has budgeted more than $2.6 million for Morris Sheppard in the capital expense section of its budget, documents from Kettler show.

Plans include replacing one flood control gate, modifying a spillway pump and its piping, a life-extension assessment of concrete in the structure and replacing a weir box. Weir boxes monitor for seeps and retain sediments when they infiltrate.

The expense does not include $2.6 million slated for regular operations, maintenance and inspections.

Another BRA dam in a popular Hood County reservoir that’s rated good, also is slated for safety maintenance.

Lake Granbury’s De Cordova Bend Dam is budgeted for nearly $3.2 million worth of attention. More than half of that is for modification and repairs to low-flow facilities, with the rest for a trolly replacement and to assess/repair the dam’s reinforced concrete components.

Those are on top of $1.34 million set aside for operations, maintenance and inspections at De Cordova Bend dam, the BRA documents show.

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