Midland Flooding: What Went Wrong

Heavy rainfall, regulatory failures and aging infrastructure all played a part in Midland dam breach.

Catastrophic flooding has forced thousands to evacuate their homes in Mid-Michigan.

“Many, many neighborhoods under water, many, many businesses destroyed.” — Mike Horace, WCMU

A rainstorm created a surge of water that caused the Edenville Dam to fail, sending the muddy rain waters further downstream overwhelming other dams and compounding the situation. This devastating event has brought to light longstanding regulatory concerns surrounding the Edenville Dam and the state’s aging infrastructure.

Listen: Devastating Flooding Hits Mid-Michigan Amid Pandemic


Mike Horace, Radio Program & Operations Manager at WCMU Public Media in Mid-Michigan, says the level of flooding in the Midland area has been devastating.

“Many, many neighborhoods under water, many, many businesses destroyed, not just in Midland but in surrounding communities as well,” says Horace. He says prior to the break, the Edenville Dam has long sparked safety concerns among federal watchdogs. “There’s numerous examples of the company simply ignoring what federal regulators wanted to do,” says Horace.

Jake Neher/WDET
Jake Neher/WDET

Nick Schroeck, Associate Professor at Detroit Mercy School of Law, says the state’s existing infrastructure is not prepared to endure acute weather events, which have become increasingly common. He says that regulatory failures coupled with the old age of Michigan dams contributed to this calamitous event.

“When you look at regulation of dams, it’s really all over the place. The state has had issues trying to regulate this company. Private dam ownership is a major issue all over the state,” Schroeck says.

In a post-show discussion on social media, Schroeck added some context to the claim that dams in Michigan are simply too old to safely function.

“I didn’t get to mention that the American Society of Civil Engineers rates our Michigan dam infrastructure at a C- and estimates we need at least $225 million in state funds to deal with aging and otherwise subpar dams,” says Schroeck.

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