In this historical photo from May 31, 1889, survivors stand by homes destroyed when the South Fork Dam collapsed in Johnstown, Pa. As officials prepare to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the enormous Johnstown Flood of 1889 that killed 2,209 people, new research has helped explain why the deluge was so deadly. (AP Photo)
Katie is a reporter for WITF and hosts PA Post's political podcast State of the State. For two years she has covered the legislature, governor, and a wide range of political issues for public radio stations across Pennsylvania.
(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvania is home to a lot of old dams—many of which are privately owned.
The Dam Safety Division of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection classifies dams as high-hazard if a failure could endanger peoples’ lives.
740 of the commonwealth’s dams are in that category. And of those, 145 are reportedly in poor or unsatisfactory condition.
One is the more than 120-year-old dam at Lake Scranton, which is holding 2.5 billion gallons of water close to the city. The private Pennsylvania American Water Company owns it, and has been working to get the structure in compliance with state regulations.
Pennsylvania is no stranger to dam disasters. The most infamous was the 1889 Johnstown flood that killed over 2,000 people.
These days, the commonwealth spends nearly $3 million annually on dam improvement—the second most in the country.
Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has proposed using money from a natural gas severance tax to route even more dollars to high-risk dams, though the GOP-controlled legislature hasn’t been receptive.