The latest state inspection reports for several “high-hazard” dams in the area appear to show only minor issues with their conditions.

Gaps and long delays in issuing the reports also shows staffing challenges for the Safe Dams Program, the state agency that monitors dams. Some reports were only recently completed for inspections conducted in February; others are for inspections dating to May 2015, but only recently became available in state files. A few dams still don’t have reports available at all.

Safe Dams Program inspector Bobby Sauer Jr. walks the top of Powers Lake Dam in Sandy Springs Feb. 11. (Photo John Ruch)

The state keeps a database of dams and categorizes 11 local ones as “high-hazard,” meaning that if they failed, the resulting flood likely would kill people. There are 474 high-hazard dams in Georgia, many of them privately owned, which can make condition and repairs hard to track.

No high-hazard dam in the state has failed since the 1990s, and the Safe Dams Program aims to keep it that way, but it has only 11 staff engineers to conduct inspections and issue reports.

The local dams were inspected in two rounds of visits in early 2015 and early 2016. Only one report from those inspections was previously available, for Brookhaven’s Silver Lake Dam, which showed it to be in good condition.

Reports recently provided by the Safe Dams Program did not include the findings for three dams: Capital City Country Club Lake in Buckhead; Murphey Candler Lake in Brookhaven; and Tera Lake in Sandy Springs. Safe Dams officials did not respond to requests for those reports. Tom Woosley, head of the Safe Dams Program, has previously said Tera Lake needs repair work.

Also missing was a report for Dunwoody Club Crossing Dam in Dunwoody, but that may be because the owners are appealing its high-hazard classification, the Safe Dams Program previously said.

The inspection reports are brief technical descriptions of the dams. They do not include an overall comment on a dam’s conditions or what work might need to be done on them. That information comes in a separate letter the Safe Dams Program issues to owners, and those letters are still in process for this year’s inspections, Woosley said.

The reports also do not necessarily include all of the concerns that the Safe Dams Program may have.

One example is Lake Forrest Dam, which runs beneath the 4600 block of Lake Forrest Drive on the Buckhead-Sandy Springs border. The inspection report notes some issues, such as trees growing atop the dam. But it does not go into details about the ongoing private inspections, jointly conducted by the cities of Atlanta and Sandy Springs, to investigate possible water leakage within the dam’s embankment. That controversial and expensive effort, spearheaded by Sandy Springs, has gone on for years.

The private inspections are expected to determine the fate of that dam sometime next year. Options range from dam repairs to building a retention pond upstream to breaching the embankment permanently to make it a culvert instead of a dam.

Recent survey work for Lake Forrest inspections drew a complaint from Buckhead resident Todd Rinck, who said in an email to Sandy Springs city officials that a surveyor entered his property without permission.

Sandy Springs City Attorney Wendell Willard said in an email that studying the possible dam alternative “requires survey work within the vicinity of the lake and topography of surrounding and adjacent properties to the lake. This will be used to determine what effect the level of lake water will have on adjacent property, based upon the various alternatives.”

The following are what the latest state reports say about some other local high-hazard dams:

Scott Candler reservoir, Dunwoody
May 2015: Some minor areas of erosion to address and some seepage to monitor. One area had a crushed culvert pipe and some debris blocking drains.

Cherokee Country Club, Sandy Springs
February 2016: “Significant erosion” on part of one slope. Inspectors could not find the principal outlet for the dam, writing, “It may have been submerged or buried.”

Lake Northridge, Sandy Springs
February 2016: “Significant erosion” on a side spillway, not the main one, and some seepage.

Peppertree Lake, Sandy Springs
Feb. 2016: Erosion in several places and “shallow sloughs” on both slopes. Continuing concerns about brush and trees encroaching on the waterway.

Powers Lake, Sandy Springs
February 2016: Minor seepage and some animal-type holes on the slope.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.