OXFORD, Miss. — State authorities provided an update on the Lake Tara Dam situation Thursday, a day after nearby neighborhoods were evacuated out of fear of a potential levee failure due to heavy rainfall.
William McKercher, Chief of the Dam Safety Division at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said they are making progress of getting the water levels lower, but with showers forecasted for the next day or so, the level will be rising slightly.
After finishing their assessment Wednesday, officials brought out siphon equipment and are using three large pipes to push up to 1,500 gallons of water a minute from the lake and diverting it to a nearby ridge, away from nearby homes.
“The Siphon hoses are safer. They’re quieter. They’re less evasive to the neighborhoods,” explained Dave R. with the Tara Estates Homeowner Association.
McKercher said the issue is the dam. Currently there’s a metal pipe that is used to control the water level in the lake, but the heavy rain forced the water to start flowing around the pipe, washing away the soil and causing a sink hole to form on top of the dam. The sinkhole grew a little overnight, but nothing too significant.
“There’s very, very low risk of any further breach,” he said. “They’ve got the water down. They’ve got control to keep the water down in case we have rain these next couple days.”
If that sinkhole does grow, it could create a space where water could come through and wash out the dam, sending large volumes of water into nearby neighborhoods.
Officials said they will be on the scene for at least the next week to sort out the problem. If there is a significant increase in water, they will bring in more equipment and take necessary measures. Once the water levels are down, the homeowner’s association can install new pipes.
“The plan is to have them in place in the next couple of weeks to assure that is safe for years and years to come,” said Dave.
Levees like the one in Tara Estates have a 25-30 year shelf life, and the neighborhood knew this one is near the end of its cycle.McKercher said the residents were already planning on fixing it anyway, and already had a pipe on site.
A replacement drain will add another 30 years or more of service.