“The FPL Reservoir’s Catastrophic Dike Failure”
Barley Barber Swamp, the FPL Reservoir and its 1979 Catastrophic Failure (Part 2 of 2), Todd Thurlow, SLR/IRL
Video link “The FPL Reservoir’s Catastrophic Dike Failure” (https://youtu.be/2r1hgFqgIK8)
On Halloween eve, October 30th 1979, the southwest side of the dike embankment at Florida Power & Light Company’s Martin Plant suddenly, and without warning failed catastrophically.
It was the dead of night and certainly the creatures of the nearby Barley Barber Swamp sensed more than their human masters. No person saw the incident. There were no cameras, no guards, no witnesses. It was the 1970s.
We can imagine, though, even though the final report said “not,” that for months sands had been slipping, eroding underground, perhaps led by connection to the old borrow pits dug for the railroad that came through in the 1920s.
My brother Todd’s latest spectacular time capsule flight takes us through this fateful night that by the time Halloween arrived, derailed a southbound train. The conductor reported the incident to his superiors as a “flash flood.” It was eventually realized that this flash flood was part of something much larger in scope!
Even if you know the story, the numbers are staggering…
As Todd notes, when the dike let loose, 100,000 cfs of water (cubic feet per second) blew into L-65, the canal on the edge of the FPL reservoir, and into the C-44 canal connected to the reservoir at S-53. The biggest numbers we hear these days in cfs is about 5000.
Facing west, a wave surged over the sugarcane fields and overtop US 441, traveling north seven miles in the rim canal. S-308 at Port Mayaca flowed backwards, and 4000 cfs entered Lake Okeechobee.
The finally alerted ACOE maxed S-80 at St Lucie Locks and Dam at 15,800 cfs, (over twice the highest amount of the Lost Summer of 2013 at 5700+/-). Crazy! Todd says the max for S-80 into the St Lucie River is 16,900 cfs. Not too far off were they.
Of course, these peaks would have only been for a few hours, but nonetheless, as is often the case, these kind of numbers mean “instant death for the St Lucie.”
This FPL event traveled much further north than the C-44 canal though; the last paragraph of the SFWMD 1980 report’s “failure section” notes:
“The Rim Canal reached a peak the next day (November 1) at the north end of the basin, 17 miles from the St. Lucie Canal. The flood was contained at this northerly point by the Nubbin Slough Tieback Levee along Canal 59. The maximum area flooded, was about 14,100 acres.”
What a story!
Well, it’s only history, right? But then history has a strange way of repeating itself in one form or another doesn’t it?
WATCH Todd’s VIDEO HERE: “The FPL Reservoir’s Catastrophic Dike Failure” (https://youtu.be/2r1hgFqgIK8)
Interim Final Draft Report on Embankment Failure FPL’s Martin Plant Cooling Reservoir, SFWMD, 1980: http://damsafety.hostguardian.com/media/Documents/DownloadableDocuments/MartinPowerPlantFailureReport.pdf
Palm Beach Post, Post Time, FPL 1979 Dam Collapse Hit Martin County, Elliot Kleinberg :
Read part 1 of this FRL series below:
Part 1, Barley Barber Swamp, the FPL Reservoir and its 1979 Catastrophic Failure (Part 1 of 2) Todd Thurlow/JTL: https://jacquithurlowlippisch.com/tag/barley-barber-swamp/
4 thoughts on “The FPL Reservoir’s Catastrophic Dike Failure, 1979, Part 2 of 2, SLR/IRL”
You may have addressed this issue in a prior post or perhaps on your website.
My husband was listening to NPR radio this morning and heard something about Florida easing up on regulations which would allow more development along the coast. I know Martin County has fairly strict regulations about this, but I’m not sure if state laws trump more strict local laws. We have a new owner in our building who is heavily involved in large real estate projects in the Orlando metro area and I’m a bit concerned (maybe a bit paranoid) as to their longer term intentions.
Of course, additional building affects water quality as well as contributing to erosion, etc.
Thank you to you and your husband for the work you do.
Sincerely, Faye DiLeo
Dear Faye, thank you so much for writing. Yes there is expected to be much more growth in the state of Florida and it is difficult for local municipalities that try to avoid this to “hold the line.” We should be looking at water and flooding issues with every move and remembering the nature is what brought us here in the first place! You are not paranoid! 🙂 Just paying attention. Please write again and thank you for reading my blog and caring about our beautiful state.
Hello. My family lived on a ranch in the middle of that flood. We had to be helicopter evacuated out of this. I was only 6 but I remember how scary this was in the middle of the night.
I cannot image this memory ever fading. Wow. Thank you for sharing Patty.