HOME People & Events

A century-old structure, The Rapidan Dam, falls from a flood

2024.07.08 13:55:18 Jaden Cho

[Image of Dam. Photo Credit to Unsplash]

The 114-year-old structure of southern Minnesota's Rapidan Dam faced a critical threat as floodwaters surged around it, prompting urgent measures to prevent complete collapse.


Emergency management workers sounded the alarm early Monday as they saw water at a peak of 34,800 cubic feet per second (far surpassing the dam’s standard 500 cubic feet per second).


The swollen river, rising from days of pouring rain, finally overpowered part of the structure, and the built-up debris and other materials within the structure caused the west abutment to partially fall .


The flash flood swept away a power station which left about 600 households without power, and caused massive erosion of the riverbank.


Despite the alarming predictions, the main body of the dam itself had yet to give away.


Officials said that a complete failure had more or less been prevented at present since water levels had experienced a slight drop, but it was believed that significant erosion continued to occur on the west side of the dam.


Governor Tim Walz said that the critical questions concerning the structural stability and condition of the dam have been long overdue.


He further explained that the assessments before this were already classifying the dam as being in poor condition.


The Rapidan Dam was built in 1910 and was initially constructed to generate electricity,


But over the decades, it has been damaged repeatedly by flooding or even by simply wearing out.


Emergency repairs were made in 2002 to address this condition, but floods in 2019 and 2020 damaged it constantly.


The potential costs and logistical challenges of either repairing or removing the dam are significant, as the estimates for removal reach $82 million due to the need for extensive riverbank stabilization and other protective measures.


It was not just homes that were destroyed by the floodwater.


The Rapidan Dam Store was also washed away, a local landmark that was open since 1910.


More specifically, Blue Earth County officials demolished the store on Friday to prevent its total loss to the river.


The residents spoke of a beloved old store that was a community hub, old-fashioned in its charm, and famous for its homemade pies.


Other concerns regarding the environment are more immediate as over a century’s worth of sediment has piled up behind the dam, creating a real threat if the dam falls entirely.


The sediment is expected to contain numerous pollutants, which would further devastate the river system and complicate the situation.


Even more, the vast majority of these dams are at or have exceeded designed lifespans, and the increasing severity of weather events directly linked to climate change exacerbates the problem.


Many experts note that infrastructure maintenance and modernization are needed to prevent such a crisis in the future, and Governor Walz advises keeping an eye on a further reassessment of the dam's condition.


As communities across the Midwest deal with the aftermath of this historic flooding, the event of Rapidan Dam is a stark reminder to reconsider the appropriate balance between preserving historical structures as well as emphasizing environmental protection.

Jaden Cho / Grade 11
Asheville School