Dam failure imminent near Sabetha, emergency officials warn

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SABETHA, Kan. (WIBW) - Emergency officials are warning a private dam about a mile outside of Sabetha is in danger of failing. The earthen dam feeds into the Delaware River as it heads toward Lake Perry.

(WIBW/Grant Stephens)

The dam holds back water at a watershed one mile south of Sabetha.
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"The dam south of Sabetha has not failed yet, but it could in the next hour or two," the National Weather Service in Topeka tweeted at around 3:10 p.m. Thursday. If it does fail, the water would flow south, away from town, NWS added, noting that flooding had not started in Nemaha Co. at that time.

When the alert was originally put out - there was a great deal of concern for parts of Nemaha - Jackson - and Brown county.

As time went on - engineers got a better idea of what was most likely to happen if the dam completely failed.

Russel Lierz with Nemaha County Emergency Management says it started as a sinkhole.

"Tuesday morning workers spotted a ten-foot hole in the dam ... estimates are it was around the downpipe where it began."

Early Thursday afternoon - erosion took big chunks out of the earthen dam - so the National Weather Service issued flood warnings - concerned about what could happen as the dam weakened.

By the evening - Nemaha Co. Emergency Management had a different message.

"As of this time no lives or homes are in danger, there's no major flooding, and we have engineers - they have been here every day keeping an eye on the dam," Lierz said.

The dam didn't collapse completely - instead the watershed slowly drained into the Delaware River causing no major damage.

Despite that, there's still some uncertainty around whether the dam will continue to slowly drain - or fail completely.

Nemaha County says even in the worst-case scenario water from a full collapse would likely spread out into nearby pastures - and wouldn't cause deep flooding.

Lierz wanted to emphasize that there's no cause for concern.

"We'll keep an eye on it through the night, and into tomorrow if we need to. If anything changes we will send out the proper alerts. Things were a little mixed up earlier but we got that resolved, everybody needs to know that they're okay. Okay and safe."

The Delaware River does flow into Perry Lake, but the extra water from the watershed isn't expected to cause any trouble at all for Perry.