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Viewpoint: Safety remains the priority at Byllesby Dam

Mike Slavik

By Mike Slavik, Dakota County District 1 Commissioner

Dakota County safely operates the Byllesby Dam near Cannon Falls, carefully maintaining the renewable energy facility on the Cannon River and working to ensure the safety of residents who live nearby. We're highlighting those efforts in recognition of Dam Safety Awareness Day on Thursday, May 31.

Built in 1911 and routinely upgraded by the county, the hydroelectric dam generates enough power to provide electricity to a city the size of Cannon Falls. The county sells that energy to Xcel Energy, and the revenues cover dam operation costs. In addition to generating energy, the dam provides recreational benefits in Lake Byllesby and two parks: Lake Byllesby Regional Park owned by Dakota County, and Goodhue County's Lake Byllesby Park. Dakota County uses the dam to comply with state and federal requirements for management of water in the lake and downstream on the Cannon River.

Our priority is the safety of residents living upstream and downstream of the dam. The county, with assistance from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Dam Safety Grant program, has invested $26 million in recent improvements and planned upgrades to the dam. Major projects included $7.5 million to nearly double the capacity of the dam; $4.5 million for concrete, gate and foundation repairs; and $14 million for a planned dam turbine and powerhouse upgrade.

We take pride in operating the Byllesby Dam and generating renewable energy to help power communities in our region. We also take dam operations seriously. The county, along with our partner agencies, will continue to invest in the dam to make sure it runs as safely and efficiently as possible.

In addition to upgrading and modernizing Byllesby Dam, the county ensures the dam is in compliance with federal regulations through regular inspections, monitoring and training. Those efforts include:

• Daily facility inspections by staff, weekly or monthly monitoring of engineering instrumentation by staff and annual inspections by federal regulators. An outside consultant conducts an audit of the facility every five years.

• Continuous monitoring of the Cannon River upstream and downstream of the dam for water level compliance.

• Regular updates to the emergency action plan and training for flood management and in the highly unlikely event of dam failure.

We're confident in the safety and structural integrity of the Byllesby Dam. The county invests considerable time, effort and funding to remain compliant with strict federal regulations and to ensure the safety of the public living in the area and enjoying recreational opportunities on and around Lake Byllesby and the Cannon River.

Responsible ownership and operation of the Byllesby Dam also means Dakota County and our local emergency management partners need an effective, well-rehearsed emergency management plan in the unlikely scenario of a dam failure. Together, Dakota County, Goodhue County and the City of Cannon Falls are in the process of developing an evacuation plan for the City of Cannon Falls in the event the dam fails.

"Dakota County has been a great partner during past flooding events and is expanding their support to help in planning for a situation that we hope never happens, but these efforts will ensure our community is ready to act if needed," said Cannon Falls Police Chief Jeff McCormick.

Dakota County, Goodhue County and the city of Cannon Falls are creating evacuation routes for the Cannon Falls community based on proximity to the dam and the Cannon River. Additionally, they will distribute information about the amount of water that would rapidly inundate the City of Cannon Falls if the dam were to breach. Area residents will be encouraged to familiarize themselves with their evacuation route.

The public is invited to provide feedback on a draft of the evacuation plan. Cannon Falls will host an open house Wednesday, June 20. The open house will be 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Cannon Falls City Hall, 918 River Road. Following the open house, the evacuation plan will be finalized and formal brochures, maps and information will be provided to the public. The materials will clearly explain what residents should do in the unlikely scenario of a dam failure.

Open house

The public is invited to provide feedback on a draft of the evacuation plan. Cannon Falls will host an open house 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 20, in City Hall, 918 River Road.

Following the open house, the evacuation plan will be finalized and formal brochures, maps and information will be provided to the public. The materials will clearly explain what residents should do in the unlikely scenario of a dam failure.

For more information, contact:

• Josh Petersen, Dakota County senior water resources engineer, 952-891-7140

joshua.petersen@co.dakota.mn.us

• Chief Jeff McCormick, Cannon Falls Police Department, 507-263-2278

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