By the end of this year, 208 watershed dams in Texas will have exceeded their evaluated life of 50 years. By 2011, that number will increase to 543. Proper operation and maintenance of those watersheds will be the key to managing risks associated with these aging dams, said speakers at a recent National Watershed Coalition (NWC) Operation and Maintenance Workshop in Decatur, Texas.

The workshop included approximately 110 watershed sponsors and others involved in the maintenance of watershed dams.

“These workshops present new techniques and information to people working with operation and maintenance of watershed projects. Operation and maintenance is the foundation for everything we do for watersheds,” said Dr. Dan Sebert, NWC executive director.

With about 2,000 floodwater retarding structures (FRS) throughout Texas, NRCS estimates that the state derives more than $110 million each year in benefits, which includes reduction in damage to agricultural lands and rural and urban infrastructure, including roads and bridges. Other benefits include reduced soil erosion, water conservation, municipal and industrial water supply, creation of wetland/upland wildlife habitat, and recreation.

Sebert said that while an increase in population within a watershed also increases the value in benefits the watershed dams provide it also elevates the importance of maintaining the dams. “Operation and maintenance is the key to managing risk and responsibility in a watershed area,” he said.

Watershed dams were constructed through the federal Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act, which authorized the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to assist local sponsors with planning and installation of projects to reduce flooding, as well as provide erosion and sedimentation control. Local sponsors obtain land rights for the projects and agree to operate and maintain the structures.

Don Gohmert, NRCS state conservationist in Texas, commended the first watershed sponsors who could see in the 1950s the benefits watershed dams would provide. “They built dams for an evaluated life of 50 years, and here we are 50 years later talking about how to care for these dams that continue to provide flood prevention benefits to communities all across Texas,” he said.

Aging watershed dams and the need to rehabilitate and maintain dams was a central topic at the conference.

Other topics included watershed project sponsor responsibilities, emergency action plans, and dam safety partnerships. The group also toured four floodwater retarding structures in the Trinity River watershed.

The conference was sponsored by the NWC, NRCS, Wise County Water Control and Improvement District No. 1, Wise County Soil and Water Conservation District, Texas Association of Watershed Sponsors, Wise County, and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board.