Lake Needwood to be drained dry as corrective measures are implemented

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

State officials have ordered that Lake Needwood be drained dry, Park and Panning engineer Michael F. Riley said Wednesday evening.

The Maryland Department of the Environment has declared the dam at Lake Needwood unsafe and ordered corrective actions, including draining the lake.

‘‘Unless through dialogue with the sate we can convince them that an intermediate level will be safe, we’ll continue to drain it until it’s dry,” Riley said.

Seven small leaks sprang up at the base of the four-decades-old dam last week, after record-setting rains accumulated in the lake behind it. Fearing the dam would fail completely, officials evacuated residents living in low-lying areas downstream for most of June 28 and 29.

Lake Needwood crested last week at 23 feet above normal levels. The lake has dropped 18 feet as of Wednesday, and is now five feet above normal levels.

Threat of a disastrous failure has continued to decrease with the lake’s water level, county officials have reported. Water levels in observation wells on the dam itself also are decreasing.

The dam has stopped leaking, county officials reported.

‘‘As water levels in the lake continue to drop, there will be impacts on fish, wildlife and natural resources and recreational activities,” Park and Planning announced in a press release late Wednesday afternoon. ‘‘We are currently assessing the best ways to minimize those impacts.”

Officials estimate the lake will drop to normal levels within two days, barring a significant amount of additional rainfall. They will continue releasing water until the lake is dry.

Park officials promised to work with the state to implement other corrective actions specified, including monitoring the dam during storms, hiring an engineering team to study the dam, updating the emergency action plan and determining long-term solutions.

The lake would remain dry until the dam is repaired and future leaks are prevented, Riley said.