Archive for the 'Dam!' Category

Dam straw

Thursday, June 18th, 2009


The man who said he would fix the spillway and repair the dam said that it was unlikely that he would be able to do the work until the dry season — probably August. (He’s afraid his equipment will get bogged down in the wet acre below the dam.) As long as the dam continues to leak and drain down the pool, I don’t suppose I have much threat of water overtopping it again. (One more incident might be enuf to wash a notch in the dam and drain the lake.)

There is still the problem of rain falling directly onto the exposed dirt of the dam and eroding it. With that worry in mind, I stopped at the local feed store on our last trip to the woods and picked up two bales of straw to spread over the area. My hope is that it will blunt the force of the rain striking the ground and at least slow any further erosion.

I carried the bales across the dam and threw the straw downhill to cover the area. That worked pretty well, and I knew it would because I had done the very same thing when the dam was new and raw. At that time (January, nearly a decade ago) we seeded with wheat so that something green would grow on the dam as soon as possible. (Prairie grasses and scrub have filled in since.) I don’t want to seed now since the exposed area will be buried soon, but once all of that work is done, I suppose I’ll have to seed it.

I used two bales of straw on this, and I think I could have used two more to cover the area more effectively. (Maybe next time I can supplement.) It’s hard to give you a sense of how precipitous the erosion is from this photo. Some of the grass at the top of the dam overhangs the eroded ground below it. There are several deeply gouged spots just below the top as well. Even one patch of exposed ground like this is bad, and I have two.

In good news, all of this exposed ground was bone dry when I was there last weekend. The lake was just about four inches below full pool, so that tells me that the leaking is mostly going under the dam rather than through it.

Missouri calendar:

  • Mulberries are ripening.

Shades of gray

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


I don’t believe the world is black and white. At best we have an infinite number of shades of gray.

For the longest time I wanted my lake to be full. Then I cursed the leaks in the dam. I welcomed every storm, hoping it would fill my lake.

Now I’m grateful for those leaks because they drained away sufficient water from the lake to keep the recent rainstorms from sending it over the dam again. I welcome a less full lake now, and I curse the rainstorms.

I hope we can get the dam and the spillway repaired before the next incident, which might breach the dam and empty the lake. But I’ve also come to some resignation if the dam should fail.

This would give me the chance to repair that part of the dam properly and ensure that the leaks there are ended. Maybe we could apply Bentonite more effectively to the face of the dam if we could get to it better. It would also allow a bulldozer into the lake bed itself. I see two benefits to this immediately. Such a machine could scrape away all of the many willow infestations in the middle of the water. It could also clean out all of the gravel that has been pouring into the far end of the lake. It’s a mix of challenge and opportunity, of fear and welcome.

And so this is all part of the responsibilities of property ownership. It’s never going to be easy, and there aren’t going to be simple answers. Someone once said I should write a book about building my lake, but I never thought there was any story in it. I’m beginning to think otherwise.

Missouri calendar:

  • Young woodchucks (groundhogs) leave dens.

Still standing

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009


It was with a mixture of heartache and dread that I watched the weather forecasts call for rain in the Roundrock area as the last week passed. On Saturday and Sunday, I looked at the radar maps showing rainstorms directly over my part of the county. I had hoped that the dry week meant the man I spoke with would have had the chance to get out there to do the repair work to the dam and spillway, but he hadn’t called me, and I suspected that he hadn’t done the work yet.

We decided to go out to Roundrock on Monday to see what there was to see. I hoped we would see a repaired dam and a widened, re-directed spillway. I feared we would see a breached dam and an empty lake bed.

We didn’t see either.

What we saw was the status quo. Nothing had changed in the week we were away. The drive down was ominous though. We passed through several storms; the fields were flooded; the rivers were swollen. But the closer we got to Roundrock, the less rain appeared to have fallen. Certainly the woods were wet, and the tall grass we had to wade through in places soaked our pants, but overall it didn’t seem that the really heavy rains had fallen in the area in the preceding week.

The lake was down about half a foot, attributable to those leaks I used to loathe. I suspect that more water was drained off but that the rains that did fall had replenished some of what was lost. Even so, the leaks seem to have prevented the dam-topping flood I feared all week.

I had also worried (I seem to do that a lot) that when the man did come out with his big machines to push the dirt back up on the dam, he might not be able to see the valve cover or the valve drain outlet. He might bury them with all of the dirt he moved, or worse, he might break them by driving over them, causing an unstoppable draining of the lake. Thus my plan was to mark these two “delicate” parts of the dam so that he couldn’t miss them.

You see the fruits of my work above. I took this photo across the inland sea that is the pecan plantation these days. I hadn’t thought to take a picture of the two posts at the time I finished driving them into the ground, and by the time I “waded” across the soggy acre and remembered it, I wasn’t about to “wade” back again for a better shot.

What you see is the dam rising in the background. The exposed dirt in the top left corner is the eroding spillway. The exposed dirt in the top right corner is the eroding dam. The post on the right marks where the valve cover lies mostly buried in the flowing earth. The post on the left is just a best guess of where the outlet of the drain pipe is. We couldn’t find it. I think it is buried by the rocks and dirt that have washed off the dam. We dug for a while, in several places, looking for the pipe but never found it. So I drove the post in about where I thought it was, and a man on a dozer should be able to steer around the general area and miss the pipe (wherever it may be).

Had I been able to open the valve cover, and had I been able to open the valve, it might have been fun to see the water pressure bursting from the end of the pipe explode all of the rocks and dirt before it. But the ground we were standing on when we pounded the stakes quaked like jelly, and I had no intention of lying on my stomach in that muck to lean down into a buried barrel and reach for a valve that might not even open. Sigh.

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyote pups begin emerging from dens.

Saturday Matinee – 7.12.2008

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

Like a gated community, like a Washington cover up, the duckweed that has covered my pond won’t let you peek at what may be hidden below.

I give a bonus pan of the pond with some birdsong that is delightful.

Sorry about the shaky hand in the beginning of this video. I think the heat was already getting to me.


You probably already know that today is Henry David Thoreau’s birthday.

Missouri calendar:

  • Dragonflies lay eggs on ponds and streams.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The first number of the Missouri Gazette is published in 1808 on this date.
  • A pro-slavery convention is held in Lexington in 1855, with 25 Missouri counties represented, advocating “just and constitutional measures” to prevent Kansas from becoming a free state.
  • African American inventor and scientist George Washington Carver was born near Diamond, Missouri in 1864.
  • Governor James Blair and his wife, Emilie, die in the governor’s mansion on this date in 1962. He had left his car engine running parked in the garage and the fumes were drawn into the house via the new air conditioning system. Blair’s time as governor included fiscal responsibility and compassionate social legislation.

Bad day for this fish

Friday, May 9th, 2008


What you see above is getting to be a regular sight when we go out to Roundrock these days. The unfortunate fish in that poor photo (on extreme zoom for my little camera) was trapped against the overflow screen when the lake was pouring through it. (Looks like another inch of movement and it might have found a way through the screen and onto the adventure of the intermittent pond.)

All those years when the lake was just a muddy puddle at the base of the dam left me thinking that if only I could have a full lake, all would be right in the world. And all those years when the lake was just a muddy puddle at the base of the dam left me thinking that I would never get to stock fish in it. (Had I been able to stock the lake with fish five years ago, you can just imagine the fish stories I would be telling you now!)

This spring, I get to see the other side of the matter. The lake is so full that the overflow drain is getting clogged with debris and the spillway is eroding dangerously. And I seem to have so many fish that they are clogging the system with their mortality.

I thought a full lake would be a pastoral water feature, passive and lovely and really requiring no intervention on my part. I guess not.

Missouri calendar:

  • Dewberries bloom.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Willard Preble Hall was born on this date in 1820. As governor he lead the state in the closing months of the Civil War after having been nearly captured by Confederate troops.

Slippery slope

Monday, April 14th, 2008


What you see is a problem I have at Roundrock. This is the spillway on the side of the dam. The recent heavy rains have caused excess water in the lake (water that can’t get down the overflow drain fast enuf) to pour down the spillway. The dam is on the right in this photo.

The flow has been so strong that it is scouring these gouges in the spillway. If the heavy rains keep up (and they have at least once since I took the photo) then the erosion could get worse and eventually (or sooner) compromise the dam itself. Then my neighbor down the watershed may have a thing or two to say to me.

Years ago, when we had a gubment man out to advise us on how to be good stewards, he recommended that we divert the spillway, going around that tree you see on the left and then letting the water spill down the hillside. He thought the current path — the one you see above — was too close to the dam should erosion occur. He also suggested we make the part of the spillway actually on the top of the dam more flat and less V shaped, which currently facilitates erosion.

And that was our plan, just as soon as we had a man with a dozer out to our woods again. But the lake was depressingly low in the years that followed, and we never imagined the spillway being pressed into service again. This year the hubris makes a call.

Right now the road into our woods is too soft to allow something as big as a dozer in. Even a bobcat on a trailer would probably tear the road into a furrowed mess. I suspect the time has come to find an opportunity though. Not only do we need to address the erosion on the spillway, but there are parts of the road that really need some attention. Also, the ditches on the side of our road could be dug out again. That would help drain water away from the road, which may be keeping it soft.

In the meantime — assuming the dam is still there, of course — I intend to shove some straw bales into this eroded area with the hope that it will slow down the problem until I can get it fixed properly.

And I’m taking suggestions.

Missouri calendar:

  • Maple seeds are falling.
  • Wild black cherry begins blooming.
  • Gather wild greens–poke, dock, lamb’s quarters and dandelions.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Captain Benjamin Bonneville was born on this date in 1796. In 1832 he lead an expedition to Oregon, proving that covered wagons could be taken over the Continental Divide. Historians also suspect that he was actively serving as a spy to test British strength and resolve in what would one day be the state of Oregon.
  • The University of Missouri, the first state university west of the Mississippi River, opened in 1841.

Down the drain, slowly

Saturday, April 12th, 2008


It turns out that the picture uploading problem is a WordPress issue, not a sign of the inadequate mental abilities of yours truly. #2 Son Adam found a work around that may suffice for the time being.

So the photo above is of the drain in the dam at Roundrock. You can just make out on the left the blocks of the retaining wall we put above it. Those are standard sized landscaping blocks, so that should give you some sense of scale.

I mentioned in an earlier post this problem Libby and I found. You can see all of the twigs and plant matter floating in the water, which gives you an idea of how difficult it was for us to clean all of the debris. We could only reach it from above. After a few minutes of ineffectual work, I returned to the truck for the shovel, and we made more progress.

I suspect that the drain opening is about in this state again. Since we were last there, we had another big, big storm in the area, and I’m sure the water level rose above the drain, causing all of the floating debris in the lake to get sucked against the screen. In fact, on our last visit, there was flotsam lined up all along the very top of the dam. Another few inches of rise and the water would have flowed over the dam, which no one wants to happen.

We hope to be down there tomorrow, and assuming the dam is still there, we’ll probably have to clean the drain again. Then we can get busy planting the buttonbush.

Missouri calendar:

  • Copperheads leave winter dens this week.
  • Painted turtles bask in sun for warmth.

Today in Missouri history:

  • William Muldrow, the “dangdest scoundrel in the state of Missouri,” a dreamer and schemer, and inspiration for a character in Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit, was born on this date in 1797.
  • Vice President Harry S Truman, from Independence, became President upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1945.


Monday, March 24th, 2008


Perhaps I should begin with a little description. What you see above is the opening of the overflow drain set near the top of the dam. That’s the lake water at the top of the photo. The small retaining wall we built to keep the top of the dam from eroding into the drain is at the bottom of the photo.

(You can see a crude representation of it here. And here.)

I took this photo when we were last out at Roundrock, just over two weeks ago, and it tells me that we missed some excitement several days prior to that. The accumulation of twigs and leaves on the screen covering the overflow drum shows that in recent days, water had topped the lip of the drum and had been pouring in. The flotsam that couldn’t fit through the screen collected on the top of it. When the waters receded, the debris remained.

Just after I took the photo I stumbled down the face of the dam to clean the debris off of the screen. If enuf collected there, it could effectively block the drain, which would then cause the overflow to pass over the emergency spillway — the last resort for draining excess water from a lake.

The builder told me that he had visited a new dam he had constructed for a much larger lake and found the overflow drum blocked by a log jam. (I don’t know if the logs were tree sized or if it was more like firewood — more likely — or even twigs.) Barely any water was draining into the drum even though the water was high enuf that is should have been. He told me that he waded into the water at the drum and began tugging at the logs to clear them. The water then was able to surge into the drum. He said that the next thing to happen surprised him. The whole dam began to vibrate, apparently from the sudden force of the water passing through it.

I don’t know if he was scared at the time, but I know I would have been. Imagine standing in the lake beside a drain that is sucking in water at a tremendous rate. All the while the earth is shaking under your feet.

He told me that the dam held up and is working fine to this day. I saw it once, long after the incident he described, and it was beautiful, holding back something like 17 acres of water and looking so lovely that I decided I needed a lake of my own.

But I’m going to be sure to keep the drain cleared every chance I get.

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for pussy willows’ fuzzy blooms.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Governor Hadley signed legislation calling for a bond issue to finance a new capitol building on this date in 1911. The old building was gutted by a fire started by a bolt of lightning.


Thursday, January 17th, 2008


This is the wintery remains of some grass that was growing on the lake side of the dam. It was still in the shade of the north-facing slope the Saturday morning when we visited it, but my photo doesn’t really capture the frost that was still on it.

The grass, and all that was around it going down several feet to the water line, was bent downhill, toward the water. In a perfect world, this area would be under five or more feet of water, and I’m pretty sure it was so relatively recently. I think that’s why this grass, unlike the same farther up the dam, is bent down this way.

Where do waves go when they reach the shore? They don’t pile up one on another and push the water farther up the beach. Rather, as most folks have observed, they slide down back into the water beneath the next incoming wave. The same is the case with waves that travel across a lake and crash themselves against a dam. They slide down the face of the dam.

As they do so, they erode a bit of the dam on the way down. This leads to the build up of silt in the bottom of the lake and it washes away some of the dam. It has a miniscule effect, but it’s relentless. One gubment man we had out to look at our lake advised us to tether a string of large logs parallel to the face of the dam. Since these would float, they would always be at wave level, and the waves could break themselves against the logs rather than the dam, thus reducing the erosion. I suppose that would work, but it sounded ugly and we never took his advice. Some dams are built with a string of large rocks at wave level to do the same thing. This is called riprap. That might have been more visually appealing, but the budget at the time would only go so far.

For the time being, though, this grass seems to be doing the job a bit. I think it helped to keep the soil in place as the (once higher) water washed down the face of the dam. The grass took on the direction of the flow, and now that the water level has receded, the story is apparent.

Missouri calendar:

  • Raccoons breed through March.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Another lean day in the annals of Missouri heritage.

Zillion holes

Monday, December 3rd, 2007

I know you never believe half of the things I tell you in this blog, but they’re all true! Take as an example my assertion that there is a drain drum in the bottom of the lake with a zillion holes in it. Here is the proof.

This is another of those “found” photos that Libby scanned for me. Once again, I apologize for the quality, but you go to the blog with the photos you have.

This drum and the white pipe sticking out of the top of the dam are connected by a horizontal pipe that comes out at ground level on the other side of the dam. (You can see a crude representation of it in this post.) There is a valve in that end of the pipe, and if I choose to open it, I can drain water from the bottom of my lake through the barrel with a zillion holes. (As long-time readers know, however, the zillion holes in the dam itself do that work for me.) This barrel and the piping are set in the area that was notched as the dam was being built. I blathered about it in this post.

This barrel is supposed to be set in the lowest part of the lake bed, but it sure doesn’t look like it in this photo. I may have been standing on ground a foot or two lower than the base of the barrel when I took the shot. It is at the lowest point now, though, because the dozer man packed as much clay as he could find on the floor of the lake bed to help seal it. (Note the rich dark color of the dirt in the dam. There’s not much clay in that!) A couple of years later when he came to spread more clay on the dam, he extended the pipe so that this barrel was even further from the base of the dam.

I know all of this is quite thrilling, but that’s how you know I’m telling the truth!

Missouri calendar:

  • Barred owls courting: listen for “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?”