Although Berrien County has numerous earthen dams, which require maintenance, and other dams that have had water seepage, there have been only three recorded dam failures in the County. These dams, New Troy Mill, Keill's Dam, and Pears Mill, were privately owned earthen dams that completely failed due to being overloaded, resulting in major flooding of the properties in which they were located.
Privately owned earthen dams in Berrien County have the most potential of failure. However, in most instances, the resulting flooding of one of these earthen dams would be limited to the surrounding property and not be a serious threat to other portions of the County. Many of these earthen embankments cross small ravines that, if not properly maintained, could weaken and leak due to tree roots that grow on or near the dams. These roots weaken the integrity of the embankment as they wind their way through the earthen structure.
Historically Significant Dam Failures in Berrien County
The Hydroelectric Dam in Berrien Springs underwent a major renovation when portions of the east embankment collapsed due to erosion. Although the dam was never in danger of failing, the outcome downstream would have caused significant damage had it done so at that time. The owner brought in heavy equipment and both sides of the structure were shored up and reinforced.
A series of thunderstorms and torrential downpours began devastating areas in Berrien and Niles Townships. Flash flooding on a grand scale caused washouts on roadways and some streets became waterways. A private dam just south of Ullery Road near U.S. 31 collapsed which sent tons of water hurling down Ullery Road and eventually onto U.S. 31. Keill's Pond rose 15 feet in 6 minutes and raced in torrents onto adjoining properties. Parts of U.S. 31 near Daniel Boone Trail actually gave out when the ground underneath became waterlogged. Residents at the Marine Terrace Apartments had to be evacuated because of the rushing water along the St. Joseph River. Even with the deluge of water, predictions were that more rain was coming. Final farm damage assessment was put at.6 million.
Heavy rains throughout the spring and early summer placed major stress on the Dayton Lake Dam in southern Berrien County. The large volumes of water added to the already degrading structural integrity of the dam caused portions of the earthen embankments to wash out. Several surrounding areas were flooded and one major road was washed out due to this event. Although the dam held, major renovation was completed to upgrade and improve the dam since this was the second incident in less than 15 years and a catastrophic failure was deemed imminent.