High-hazard dam deemed safe 5 months before rupture

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ST. GEORGE — A day after the Laub Reservoir Dam broke, spilling a river of water into a Santa Clara neighborhood, homeowners left to clean up the mess still have one question: how could this have happened?

A three-page report obtained by KSL News Wednesday shows the last inspection conducted on the dam occurred just five months ago. The inspector wrote that the structure it appeared to be just fine, but the rain that fell Tuesday was obviously too much for it to handle.

Sam Bloxham's home video of the break just might be the most dramatic of all the home videos we've seen. It shows chunks of the dam falling into the rushing wall of water. After almost a hundred years of standing, the dam came apart in just a few seconds.


"The potential could have been that somebody could have really been hurt," said David Marble, Utah's assistant engineer for dam safety.

Marble was at the dam Wednesday to see how it broke apart. He said he's happy no one was hurt, and credits that to Santa Clara city workers who noticed the dam was about to fall apart because of all the rain Tuesday afternoon and issuing an evacuation to residents below.

"Had (the dam) failed without that notification, somebody, I think, could have really been in danger," Marble said.

Now, however, many residents want to know if something could have been done sooner to prevent the dam from falling apart — especially since it was built in 1919.

In that report, the inspector wrote: "In general, the dam is in good condition and well-maintained."

Utah's Division of Water Rights last inspected the dam in April. In that report, the inspector wrote: "In general, the dam is in good condition and well-maintained."

That inspector also mentioned "active rodent burrows were noted on both the upstream and downstream slopes."

"Please control rodent activity on all areas of the dam," he wrote. "If significant burrows are discovered, please backfill and compact." That's something Santa Clara's city manager said his department takes care of.

As for any immediate action needed at the dam, the inspector wrote "none."

Still, the dam was considered a high-hazard dam.

"Sometimes there is a misunderstanding of what ‘high hazard' means," Marble said. "The hazard rating has to do with consequences of the failure, and it doesn't have anything to do with the assessment of the structure itself."


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