Problems facing the Oktibbeha County Lake dam are expected to intensify as a severe weather system bringing torrential rain moves over the area during the course of the next few days.
Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Director Kristen Campanella provided an update on the status of the lake Monday following an inspection, saying heavy rain was expected to cause the lake to return back to the level of concern that it was at in January as the dam’s imminent failure prompted pumping operations to relieve some of the pressure on the earthen dam.
Over the last three weeks, emergency officials used multiple pumps running around the clock to lower the lake a little over eight feet.
However, Campanella cited a setback last week due to rainfall that raised the lake level back almost four feet. After checking levels on Monday, Campanella said the lake is nearly back to the same level as it was when the initial landslide was identified in January.
The area in the immediate vicinity of the dam is currently under a watch status as part of the county’s emergency action plan.
If the county is forced to issue mandatory evacuations, Campanella said, local law enforcement will ride through the areas under threat continuously with lights and sirens engaged to notify residents.
Those with medical needs can have an ambulance dispatched to their location for transportation to OCH Regional Medical Center in the event of mandatory evacuations or an elevated threat.
“If there is anyone that does not have medical needs but needs assistance in transportation to the shelter, please contact Mississippi State Area Rapid Transport at (662) 325-5204,” Campanella said.
The county has also requested the Red Cross shelter reopen at the First Baptist Church Outreach Center, located at 210 S. Jackson St.
While the shelter will not allow pets to be brought in, the Oktibbeha County Humane Society will continue to house pets of evacuees at its location at 510 Industrial Park Road.
For arrangements for pets, residents will need to call (662) 338-9093.
Pressing structural issues with the dam were first identified by county engineer Clyde Pritchard on the morning of Jan. 14, which immediately prompted efforts to reinforce the dam and drain the lake to a safe enough level to make repairs and avoid a total failure.
Two days later, the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to drain the lake, which resulted in the closure of a portion of County Lake Road that goes over the dam.
The process of draining the lake to then demolish a structure called a riser — which would keep the lake from holding water — was expected to take weeks and possibly months, but had yielded positive results before more rain raised additional concerns this week along with the lake level
Previous estimations reported in the Starkville Daily News said the process of draining the lake could take anywhere from 22 to 24 days, with weather conditions remaining an ongoing variable until the situation is resolved.
It has also been reported that it will cost between $7 million and $8 million to fully repair the dam, with funding remaining a consistent topic of debate over the last several years.