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October 20, 2014

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Safety inspections of Nevada dams too infrequent, audit finds

Image

Steve Marcus

A view of the Hoover Dam Wednesday, January 16, 2013.

Safety inspections by the state Engineer’s Office are lagging on dams whose failure could result in deaths, a legislative audit concluded.

“Since the failure of a dam could cause loss of life or destruction of property, dams should be periodically inspected for the public’s safety,” said the examination of the state Division of Water Resources that was released Monday by legislative auditor Paul Townsend.

The audit team said 40 percent of the 75 dams examined were not inspected on schedule.

For instance, of the 36 dams listed as a “high hazard” — meaning a dam failure or operational error could result in the loss of human life — 30 percent were not inspected in a timely manner. The average late time of inspections was 8.5 years. The regulations say there should be an annual check.

Of the 18 dams labeled as a “significant hazard” — meaning failure could cause significant damage to main roads, minor railroads, or interrupt the service of public utilities — 56 percent of the inspections were an average of three years late. The code requires inspections every three years.

The division said that some of the high-hazard dams had been inspected more frequently than determined by the audit. The report said, “However, we found no evidence of these inspections in the division’s files.”

State Engineer Jason King, who heads the water resources division, acknowledged the deficiencies and said the agency will try to comply with the recommendations.

But King said he had only two engineers to conduct more than 270 dam inspections every year. And some of the dams noted in the audit report are under federal jurisdiction.

He countered that the inspection of high-hazard dams was only one year behind schedule, not the 8.5 years outlined in audit. And the significant-hazard dams were only one year late, not the three years determined in the legislative examination.

The audit also cited the division for loose handling of the fees collected. It said it tested 60 transactions totaling more than $390,000.

Fees received in the Carson City office are stored in an unlocked drawer during office hours, allowing access to all employees.

“In the Elko and Las Vegas offices, receipts are stored in lock boxes located in unsecured cabinets,” the legislative audit said.

The audit team consisted of Supervisor Richard Neil and deputy auditors Tammy Goetz and Hernia Martell-De Luca.

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