Category Archives: Dams

Ten Largest Endorheic (Salty) Lakes of the World

I am always surprised when some piece of information I’m looking for is actually not on the Internet.  Such was the case this afternoon when I searched for a list of the largest endorheic waterbodies in the world.  An endorheic waterbody is a terminal lake (sometimes called a sea) that has no outlet other than evaporation.  In other words, rivers and streams flow in but nothing flows out.  Since the only way water escapes is via evaporation everything else – salt, nutrients, pollution – are continuously concentrated in the remaining water.  Some, like the Dead Sea, are so salty they cannot support life, but others support very unique ecosystems.

I’ve become interested in endorheic lakes because they are a microcosm for a number of water-related issues and act as a catchall for the pollution we put into our waterways.  Take, for example, Devils Lake in North Dakota.  Having no outlet means that the level of the lake can increase dramatically over a short period of time.  Since 1995, water levels have gone up nearly 25 feet destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and inundating thousands of acres of productive farmland.  State government constructed an outlet to release water into a nearby river but faced stern opposition from other states and Canada, who don’t want pollution and parasites from Devils Lake transferred into their waters.  As you can see, it can become quite the predicament.  Just wait until I get around to blogging about the Salton Sea!

Anyway, I was searching the Internet for a list of the largest endorheic lakes and I just couldn’t find one.  Sure, Wikipedia has a list of the largest lakes in the world, but this only includes a handful of endorheic lakes.  Wikipedia also has a page on endorheic basins, which mentions a lot of lakes but not in any structured way.  It also intermingles them with drainage basins, which may capture water without outlet but are clearly not lakes.  So, Internet, you’re welcome, because today I have constructed for you a list of the Top Ten Endorheic Lakes of the World (by surface area). Continue reading Ten Largest Endorheic (Salty) Lakes of the World


Dam Removal and Waterfront Property on the Boardman River – Traverse City, MI

Removal of the Brown Bridge Dam could begin as soon as Spring 2011.

As part of my recently completed graduate degree in Urban Planning I undertook an independent project that looked at the effects of dam removal on property values in Traverse City, MI.  Basically, the city has proposed the removal of four dams along a 17-mile stretch of the Boardman River.  However, at least 27 owners of waterfront property along one of the impoundments are vehemently opposed to the plan.

Property owners claim, logically, that removal of the dams (and the subsequent loss of their waterfront property) will result in a massive decline in the value of their land.  In response, Traverse City put out a study that claimed property values along the river would not fall due to dam removal, in fact, they could rise by as much as 1% a year over twenty years (that’s in addition to otherwise expected increases in property values).

Like the residents of Traverse City, I had trouble reconciling these two viewpoints and went on a mission to understand the city’s rationale.  I read all the publicly available documents, e-mailed officials and residents, and read the reports that the reports were based on (and sometimes the reports those were based on as well!).  What I found was that the city’s logic for predicting a net gain in property values was at the very least poorly explained and at the worst grossly misguided.

As an Urban Planner, it pains me when public planning processes are not seen as fair and transparent.  I support the goals of restoring natural river flows and ecosystems, but if cities cannot be honest with their residents, they will increasingly face sterner opposition from property owners effected by the dam removal process.

Continue reading Dam Removal and Waterfront Property on the Boardman River – Traverse City, MI

Hungary Sludge Flood

This wouldn’t be much of water resource blog if I failed to mention the catastrophe unfolding this week in Western Hungary.  This one has “top ten water resource disasters in history” written all over it.  Around noon on October 4, 184 million gallons of toxic aluminum production waste was released when a containment reservoir ruptured sending out a wave of sludge that flooded 15 square miles.  Five people were killed and over a hundred injured as they tried to escape the sludge, which at times was over 6 feet deep.  Anyone who came into contact with the substance was immediately burned by the red chemical mixture.  Check out these photos from

That red line was the height of the sludge flood

Continue reading Hungary Sludge Flood

Whose Dam is it Anyway?

Here’s a story I’ve been following for a while.  It’s interesting because of the legal dispute but also because it’s emblematic of the larger issue of abandoned and unmaintained private dams.  In this case, the dam in question is privately owned by Jerry and Georgia McGonigle of Hutchinson, Kansas.  It’s a small dam that collects runoff and protects about 42 area homes from flooding.  The problem is that the dam hasn’t been maintained over the past 30 years and now requires $1 million in repairs.  Unfortunately, the McGonigles knew none of this when the bought the dam, along with 20 acres of property and a house, for $300,000 back in 2008.  Now the city is telling them to fund the repairs, which they say will bankrupt them.  The McGonigles claim that the dam repairs should be the city’s responsibility because the dam protects downstream developments that the city approved.  They also claim they should not be held liable for 30 years of neglect because they’ve only owned the property for two.

The McGonigles’ argument hinges on a 1977 agreement made between the city and the prior owners of the property.  The agreement specified that the city was solely responsible for the engineering design and construction of improvements to the dam, but whoever owns the property is responsible for maintenance.  The dam was inspected by the city in 1993, 1997, and 1999 and all inspection reports criticized the dam for lack of maintenance.  When the McGonigles purchased the home they were neither informed of the condition of the dam nor of the agreement with the city making them responsible for maintaining it.  The question now is who is responsible for repairing the aging dam?  The current owners, the city, or the prior owners?

The McGonigles have filed a claim with their title insurance company for failing to inform them about the agreement during a routine title check performed when they bought the property.  In response, the title insurance company is suing the city, the McGonigles, and the prior owners claiming that, because the dam and lake are private, any agreements concerning their maintenance would not be reported in a title search and therefore would not be reported in a title search.

So, whose dam is this?  The McGonigles would like nothing more than for the city to take responsibility for repairing and maintaining the dam but the city seems to be insisting that it’s a private structure.  Obviously, there’s going to need to be a trial in order to sort all of this out and it’s a story I plan to keep watching.  Also, watching closely are 42 homeowners who have been informed that their homes would suffer damage if the dam were to rupture; some of whom were planning to sell their homes before this fiasco frightened away potential buyers.

20-acre parcel purchased by the McGonigles with Panorama Lake and Dam.
These subdivisions sit below the dam's spillway, which is split into two channels that empty on to two streets where excess water would flow into city storm drains.

Hutchinson homeowners surprised by $900,000 bill for dam” by Mary Clarkin
Title firm sues over dam costs” by Mary Clarkin