Michigan river rises to highest level ever after dam break

Flooding is seen in Midland, Mich., after a dam failed on Tuesday and forced thousands to evacuate. Photo courtesy City of Midland/Facebook

A dam breach in central Michigan that forced thousands to evacuate has swelled the Tittabawassee River to its highest level in history, forecasters said Wednesday.

The earthen Edenville Dam held back the river, which reached the record high of 34 feet in Midland, the National Weather Service said.

Forecasters from the NWS said the Tittabawassee River is expected to fluctuate to around 35 feet before beginning to drop at around midnight. They previously predicted the river could crest at 38 feet.

The Edenville Dam ruptured Tuesday after swelling with several inches of rain, and was followed by the failure of Sanford Dam in Midland County. The failures forced thousands to evacuate Midland and surrounding areas and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency.

“This is unlike anything we’ve seen in Midland County,” Whitmer said at a news conference Tuesday. “If you have a family member or loved one who lives in another part of the state, go there now.”

Downtown Midland, the site of a major Dow Chemical plant, is projected to be under as many as 9 feet of water by late Wednesday, Whitmer said.

Midland City Manager Brad Kaye said Wednesday that the flood is expected to reach its peak height at around 9 p.m. and encouraged residents to remain vigilant.

“The important point that I really want to stress … is that this is not over,” Kaye said. “It’s a bright sunny day. For those of you that are Midlanders that have been here in the past, you know that every time we flood, it seems to be a bright, sunny cloudless day … that doesn’t mean it’s over. It doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to get worse than they are right now.”

President Donald Trump said he plans to visit Michigan “at the appropriate time” and has sent federal support in response to the flood.

“They have a big problem with the dams breaking. So that is a big problem. And so we’ve sent the [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and the Army Corps of Engineers out and they’re very good at dams,” he said.

According to records, the company that owns the dam had a federal license revoked in 2018.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the license for Boyce Hydro Power to generate power at the Edenville Dam, citing the company’s failure over a years-long span to correct safety problems, including its ability to withstand a major flood.

FERC regulators said they were revoking the license because of the company’s “longstanding failure to increase the project’s spillway capacity to safely pass flood flows, as well as its failure to comply with its license” and commission regulations.

Midland County and neighboring Gladwin Country agreed to buy the dams from Boyce Hydro in January.

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