Risk of full Panguitch Lake Dam breach ‘out of the picture’

By: Kyle Dunphey, Utah News Dispatch

Officials continue to monitor the cracked Panguitch Lake Dam in southern Utah, but say the risk has reduced and the possibility of a full breach is “out of the picture.”

Wade Matthews with the Utah Division of Emergency Management said he didn’t want to speculate on what residents of Panguitch should expect in the coming days, but was encouraged with the progress made since the cracking was discovered on Monday.

“The risk has greatly reduced as far as a breach of the dam; and if so, it’s still just the upper 2 to 5 feet. We’re not even talking about the whole dam. That’s out of the picture. So damages would be minimal, the flow of water would be minimal,” Matthews said during a town hall meeting Tuesday in Garfield County.

Everett Taylor, assistant state engineer over dam safety at the Utah Division of Water Rights, said the state is currently releasing about 258 cubic feet per second from the dam to lower the reservoir. Officials also cut sections of the ice sheet to alleviate pressure on the dam.

On Thursday, the Utah Department of Public Safety said water levels in the reservoir had dropped about six inches. And over the next week, they expect levels to drop several feet. Crews will add additional supporting materials to the back of the dam by Thursday afternoon and are using an excavator to remove chunks of ice that had been pushing against the damaged section, the department said.

Taylor said the damaged portion was about 60 feet long and 2 to 5 feet tall along the top of the dam’s wall. That section “was beginning to tilt or rotate towards the downstream, causing a concern of an uncontrolled release of a portion of the reservoir,” he said Tuesday.

“The next step for us is to address reservoir management through spring runoff so we don’t get into this emergency condition again,” he said.

Residents are still encouraged to stay vigilant if an evacuation is required, and to avoid low lying areas around Panguitch Creek, which runs from the reservoir into the outskirts of town. Sections of state Route 143 remained closed Thursday.

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