Blown Out


Earth Surgeon

Blown Out

By Michael Gray


Many people in the Nashville, Tennessee area will never forget those first days of May of 2010. The rains came like most had never seen before, bringing catastrophic flooding to the area. I saw water in places I had never seen. My parents hadn’t either. It was a crazy time.

13-19 inches of rain fell in a 36-hour period, sending the Cumberland River, and other nearby streams, creeks, and rivers way over their banks. The floods tore up more than 10,000 pieces of property and sent that many people looking for another place to live.

The Grand Ole Opry House was standing six-feet in water for several days.

Once the rain ended and clouds parted, my phone began to ring a lot more than normal. A lot of people had lost dams during that 500-year rain event. Some were lucky enough that water poured over and didn’t cause much damage, but others were not so fortunate. I saw a few earthen dams ripped down to bedrock floors.

One in particular was fairly close to my house. The gentleman who owned it is named Carter. He called on a Monday morning after those big rains passed. The sun was shining bright. His is a 10-acre lake built in the early1990’s. It had great ingredients, too. The watershed covers a little more than 500 acres. A named creek branch runs through it and stretches around two miles back into the hollow. It has countless springs feeding it as well.

His lake had some very large bass, too.

At the back of the lake sits a house that overlooked the water. The property around the lake has various buildings and a caretaker house in the very back, all surrounded by steep hills and trees. I had known of this lake for years and had seen it when driving by since it is visible from the main road.

On site, I met Carter and began to see the mass destruction that had taken place. The dam had a stand pipe for a principal spillway as well as an adjacent emergency spillway of concrete. The driveway to access the property went across the top of the dam. So did the utilities for the property. When the flooding was at its worst, water undermined the concrete emergency spillway. Once this happened, roiling water began eroding more dirt and eventually ripped the concrete out.

The force of water is amazing and can be scary.

With the emergency spillway toppled and dirt rapidly eroding where the concrete sat, water overwhelmed the structure and ripped through the dam, destroying everything attached to this section of it. Carter, his wife, caretaker and his very pregnant wife narrowly got out of the property before the road was washed away.

He told the story. They drove through spillway with water pushing up on their vehicles. It was the main way out. There was another way, but they’d have to drive up a steep, slippery hill, but a river of water was racing down it as well.

I’m really surprised they weren’t washed downstream as they crossed, but they made it safely. I think they were a little surprised as well, looking at the aftermath.

It’s a crazy sight to see a dam ripped apart like that.

The drain for the stand pipe was ripped and broken off. The PVC drinking water line was dangling out of the missing dam. There was a smaller secondary pipe in the bottom of the dam with running water through it, and water was still rolling out of the cut in the dam as well.

Chunks of concrete were piled up in the creek channel, broken pieces of PVC pipe were scattered downstream as well.

This would be the first of many meetings, phone conversations and emails about fixing this dam.

Carter actually had engineers looking into some things on the dam before the flood took place.

Clearly the conversation now turned to repairing the dam and making it so this won’t ever happen again. An engineer was involved with the project and I recall another engineer with a background in hydrology was doing serious calculations on the watershed and just how big a spillway would need to be to release big water in a very timely and effective…and safe…manner.

It wasn’t long before plans begin to roll in on how the engineers would like to see the dam repaired. I remember one set of drawings proposing a concrete spillway 100-feet wide at its widest point. It was something to see and would have been incredibly effective. It was not the most economical nor very pleasing to the eye.

One big step was to find out if there was good dirt and clay on the property to make this huge repair. Typically, in that part of the county, we can find some good, compactible material.

When we hauled an excavator over to dig test holes on the property, I traveled across the lake bed to the back of the lake and went up on one of the hillsides and found the dirt we would need. After finding the material, the biggest obstacle on this property was logistics of moving the dirt to the site and properly working it in. The lake bed was in the middle of the best path and there really wasn’t another good way to get to the back of the property where the best soils sat.

We would have to construct a road to support loaded earthmoving equipment. That had to be factored into the cost.

Once we had all the information and the proper course of action had been decided, I began to put the numbers together.

Carter was more than ready to make a decision on getting his lake back together.

With all that math figured out, and cards ready to lay on the table, I met Carter one last time on site. We discussed everything…or at least everything that could be thought of at that moment…and we parted ways.

It wasn’t long I received an email from him saying he had decided to go with someone else for the repair.

You win some you lose some…and some are rained out, so to speak.

I stopped by one day after everything was about finished. I saw Carter on site that day. He told me he just went with his gut feeling on who he decided to use for the job.

I was okay with that, as much as I dislike losing.

During the repair, the dam was put back together, the driveway was moved off the dam, and placed above the spillway and the drinking water line for the house actually went through the lake bed. They decided to use electro-fusion 2-inch pipe. I believe everything was completed in 2012 and the lake had returned to full pool.

Fish were restocked and a new chapter began.

Nashville and the surrounding area come together after the big flood of 2010. Volunteers came from across the nation to help those in need. It took some time, but the big swath of the flooded zone came back to life after such a devastating event.

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