Repair work begins at Lake Manatee Dam

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MANATEE, Fla. -- Last week, Manatee County officials discovered erosion under the Lake Manatee Dam. Today, engineers were at the dam trying to determine exactly where they will need to drill to make the necessary repairs.

Manatee County Water District officials slowly lowered the level of Lake Manatee by releasing water through the Lake Manatee Dam. It's a process necessary to help protect a dam that they say is severely distressed.

"The problem is when we have a large release of water, it brings the water up on the back side of the dam, it brings that up and that is called the tail water," says Bruce MacLeod, the Manatee County Water Treatment Plant Superintendent who oversees the dam. "When that water goes down it has the tendency to pull soil out from behind the dam."

That results in voids that needs to be repaired. MacLeod says that crews will drill down into the ground and inject concrete grout to fill in the voids. Officials are also developing notification procedures to notify down stream residents.

People like Brandy Lynch. Lynch grew up living a few hundred feet from the Manatee River. She says the when the dam failed in 2003 her house was not affected but she is still concerned about a possible failure in the dam.

"It is a little scary," she says.

 Lake Manatee Dam was built 48 years ago to provide drinking water for Manatee County. MacLeod says if the dam failed now they would have time to evacuate residents.

"This kind of breach, it would take a while if it was to breach," he says.

MacLeod believes they're getting started early enough on the repairs to Lake Manatee Dam that they will be completed in time for rainy season. If there is a large rain event before then, however, officials will release water through an emergency spillway to avoid creating any unnecessary stress to the dam.

"We are in the dry season right now, so we have two and a half to three months to get the repairs done," he said.