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May 27, 2020  

Dam Shame

May 27, 2020

Last week, two dams on the Tittabawassee River burst, forcing more than 10,000 residents of Central Michigan to flee. The economic toll will be high, not to mention the environmental and public health impacts. 

In addition to the immediate crisis, the failures of the Edenville Dam and Sanford Dam are a grim warning about the integrity of Michigan’s other dams, says The New York Times. Of the state’s 1,059 dams, at least 320 have been classified with “high” or “significant” hazard potential by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The two failed dams were also 95 years old. “That makes them far older than the average age of American dams, which is 56 years old, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.”

The story out of Michigan is the subject of this week’s episode of Upzoned, featuring host Abby Kinney, an urban planner in Kansas City, and Strong Towns president Chuck Marohn. Abby and Chuck discuss how the dam failures shed light on our fragile infrastructure (there are some 20,000 high-risk dams across the U.S.), including the catastrophic consequences of dams aging in a development pattern that would have been unimaginable to their early 20th-century builders. Abby and Chuck also connect dams—the physical manifestation of suppressed volatility in water management—to the suppressed volatility in our other major systems.

Then in the Downzone, Chuck talks about re-reading The Big Short, a book about the subprime mortgage crisis by master storyteller Michael Lewis. And Abby recommends Living in the Long Emergency, the new book by James Howard Kunstler (who was also a recent guest on the Strong Towns podcast).

Additional Show Notes