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Buckeye Lake Dam

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Additional park information may be found on the Buckeye Lake State Park web page.

Location and Description

Buckeye Lake Dam is part of Buckeye Lake State Parkand situated near the edge of Millersport and the Village of Buckeye Lake in portions of Licking and Fairfield counties, approximately 30 miles east of Columbus. The dam was constructed 1825 to 1832 as an earthen embankment and measures approximately 4.1 miles long. The dam primarily is a state-owned structure that ODNR is responsible for operating and maintaining in accordance with state dam safety regulations and industry best management practices.

The lake surface area at the top of the dam is 3,030 acres in size and at the principal spillway level is 2,800 acres in size at normal summer pool elevation of 891.5 feet above mean sea level. Lake storage capacity is more than 4.5 billion gallons of water at principal spillway level. Buckeye Lake continues to support recreational uses such as fishing and boating and is not established for flood control. Buckeye Lake Dam is designated as a Class I high-hazard potential dam. A high-hazard potential dam classification signifies the general adverse consequences to lives and property that would occur in the event of a catastrophic dam failure and does not describe the dam’s condition.

Due to safety concerns, the lake level was operated from April 2015 to May 2016 at or very near a target elevation (El.) 888.5* feet above mean sea level (winter pool) until Phase 1 dam improvements were completed. This was among the interim risk reduction measures recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in its March 2015 report. Upon completion in May 2016 of two structural risk reduction measures – an embankment stability berm and a soil mix seepage cutoff wall – ODNR revised the target lake level to El. 890.5 ft.*, or one foot below normal summer pool. A No-Wake Zone (idle speed only) also was established lakewide April 17, 2015, except within a newly created Speed Zone (from sunrise to sunset) to regulate powerboat operations on this unlimited horsepower lake. Aggressive dam works operations including closing spillway gates to retain water or periodic releases of lake water by ODNR through lake drains located at the primary and secondary spillways will occur as a management tool to maintain the lake level at or very near the interim target pool El. 890.5 ft.* for the 2016 summer season, and then back to winter pool El. 888.5 ft. from fall to spring.

*Elevation values are corrected from previous versions using the 1929 National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD29).

Click here for more about the Dam Risk Reduction Program.

Buckeye Lake Dam: Statistics

  • Maximum Embankment Height: Approximately 15 feet
  • Length of Dam: 4.1 Miles
  • Crest Elevation: 894 to approximately 897* feet above mean sea level
  • Reservoir Surface Area At Top Of Dam: 3,030 acres
  • Storage Capacity At Top Of Dam: 20,000-acre feet
  • Storage Capacity at Principal Spillway Elevation: 14,000 acre-feet = 4,561,256,545 gallons
  • Principal Spillway Type: Concrete sluiceway with an amil gate
  • Principal Spillway Crest Elevation: 891.5* feet above mean sea level (summer pool)
  • Current Recreation Season Operational Target Lake Level: 890.5 feet above mean sea level (interim pool).
  • Current Winter Target Lake Level: 888.5* feet above mean sea level (winter pool)
  • Emergency Spillway (at Sellers Point) Type: U-shaped concrete gravity, ungated weir structure
  • Emergency Spillway (at Sellers Point) Crest Elevation: 892.1* feet above mean sea level
  • Lake Drains: 60-inch diameter pipe at principal spillway, and 30-inch diameter pipe at secondary spillway
  • Size Classification: Large
  • Hazard Classification: Class I
  • Lake Constructed: 1825 to 1832
  • Lake Inflow: Several small unnamed streams and the Kirkersville Feeder Canal
  • Total Drainage Area To Lake: 44.1 square miles
  • Lake Outflow: 2 spillways – principal regulatory spillway with automatic gate (located in Buckeye Lake village/Rt. 79) and Sellers Point (secondary/emergency/Rt. 360)
  • Counties: The lake is located in portions of Licking, Fairfield and Perry counties 30 miles east of downtown Columbus. The 4.1 mile earthen embankment is located only in portions of Fairfield and Licking counties.
  • Communities: Incorporated villages of Millersport (pop.1,044) and Buckeye Lake (pop.2,746); unincorporated settlements include Thornport, Avondale, Lakeside, Harbor Hills and Fairfield Beach.

*Elevation values are corrected from previous versions using the 1929 National Geodetic Vertical Datum (NGVD29).

Safety Issues

Comprehensive improvements to the dam are needed for it to meet dam safety standards; while the first phase of these improvements was completed in May 2016, the second phase is yet to be determined and finalized. The dam’s deficiencies and relevant dam safety standards were documented in Ohio Dam Safety Program inspection reports (2010, 2005) and in a March, 2015 report issued to ODNR by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some examples of these findings were excessive long-term seepage through and deterioration of the earthen embankment, multiple excavations into the downstream slope, and the inability of safety inspectors to examine areas of the dam hidden by structures.

Risk Reduction

The risk-reduction project work described below is intended to help ensure the safety of those living on, around and downstream of the dam, to safeguard the future of Buckeye Lake and to allow ODNR to meet its legal and other obligations to the lake community.

  • In 2014, ODNR entered into agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineersto provide an independent comprehensive assessment of the existing conditions of Buckeye Lake Dam and evaluate findings of previous studies related to potential dam improvement options. Along with this engineering assessment, the Corps of Engineers has made recommendations to ODNR for the dam’s repair, design, maintenance and operation. The assessment and final report were completed in March, 2015; it is available online at http://engineering.ohiodnr.gov/portals/engineering/PDFs/BL_Dam-CORP_Rpt_03-11-2015.pdf
  • In 2013-2014, ODNR improved its readiness capability to respond to a dam emergency and coordinate emergency response actions and notifications in partnership with local and state emergency responders. This reflects a continuous effort by ODNR to plan, train, exercise and evaluate its readiness capabilities. In 2015, the State of Ohio reiterated its commitment to assist and participate in dam emergency preparedness planning and exercises with local agencies and first responders.
  • ODNR supported local emergency management officials’ efforts in 2014 to establish an outdoor warning system at Buckeye Lake Dam. The system will alert residents if a dam emergency occurs that would require citizens to take personal protective actions such as evacuation of the downstream impact zone.
  • As recommended by the Corps of Engineers in March 2015 the pool level was held at the lower "winter pool" target elevation from spring 2015 into spring 2016 to reduce the risk of dam failure until risk reduction improvements were completed.
  • Phase 1 structural risk reduction measures completed in May 2016 included placement of a 30 ft. wide embankment stability berm  and a nearly 43 ft. deep soil mix seepage cutoff wall along the entire 4.1 mile length of the dam. These improvements made it possible for ODNR to safely raise the interim target lake level by 2 feet from winter pool to 1 foot below normal summer pool for the 2016 recreational season. The interim target lake level will be lowered again to winter pool from fall to spring.
  • Interim target lake levels may be lowered without notice for safety reasons based on actual or forecasted rainfall amounts and the dam's performance.

News

News Releases


All Engineering Division News Releases


Media Coverage

June, 2016 ± click to expand

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Statements

“Many of these problems were identified even before my time as the Director at ODNR and the fact that they are being recognized outside of the agency for the enormous risk they pose to the people in the community does provide me with a great sense of relief.”
Sean Logan, Former ODNR Director, 2007-2011

“As a former director of ODNR and as one who has also had the experience of owning a boat on Buckeye Lake, I believe that the recent report issued by the US Army Corps of Engineers must serve as a call to action to resolve the critical issues that threaten the community. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources should move forward immediately to ensure public safety and the future of the lake itself.”
Sam Speck, Former ODNR Director, 1999-2007

“As a former Director of ODNR, I would urge residents and lawmakers alike to support the Ohio Department of Natural Resources as they work to alleviate the long term public safety risk associated with the dam, and to explore ways to maintain a strong Buckeye Lake community. These are not new issues and need to be promptly addressed.
Francis Buchholzer, Former ODNR Director 1991-1995

“For more than 160 years, Buckeye Lake has been one of Ohio's truly unique resources. Through its commitment to fix the dam, the State of Ohio will be making a very considerable investment in one of Ohio’s more significant natural resources. The state’s decision is the right one and is a win-win for everyone as property owners and business operators will have their investments protected, downstream residents and their community leaders will benefit with the assurance that the dam meets modern safety requirements, and Ohioans will benefit from the enhancement and protection of Buckeye Lake’s environmental and recreational value.”
Don Anderson, Former ODNR Director 1995-1999

“The Emergency Management Association of Ohio is committed to working with the state and local partners to create a long-term safe and stable solution for the citizens of Licking, Fairfield and Perry Counties. Our priority is to make sure that the people living around this flood zone are safe and we will work to ensure we have the proper plans and procedures in place to protect our citizens.”
Emergency Management Association of Ohio, Brad Gilbert, President,

“Any decision made to remediate the serious Buckeye Lake dam issue will have far reaching consequences. The safety of all individuals who live and work in the Buckeye Lake region and nearby enclaves must always be the ultimate priority. The Licking County Chamber of Commerce acknowledges the Army Corps of Engineers study must be addressed immediately and the issues it raises acted upon with a sense of urgency and purpose. Whatever plan is adopted and executed will come with significant pain and sacrifice. However, we are confident that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) in conjunction with state and local entities, can create a plan that prioritizes public safety, but also considers the enormous economic impact that a reinvigorated and thriving Buckeye Lake will have on the region for decades to come.”
Licking County Chamber of Commerce, Cheri Hottinger, President & CEO

The ODNR is right to take protective action to protect people and property near Buckeye Lake. As confirmed by the Army Corps report, the Buckeye Lake dam poses a clear and present danger to life and limb and to the natural environment.
A catastrophic flood would endanger lives and property. It also could contaminate water sources with raw sewage from the wastewater treatment plant in Buckeye Lake village and dangerous chemicals stored or used at some 75-identified company facilities in the inundation zone. Finally, the ecologically fragile Cranberry Bog -- a national natural landmark -- could suffer irreparable impact.
The old adage 'better safe than sorry' certainly applies to the Buckeye Lake situation. So while its actions may not be popular with all, ODNR is making the right call and exhibiting solid leadership.
Ohio Environmental Council, Jack Shaner, Deputy Director

“ I wish to extend my thanks to everyone at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for their efforts as they work to address the countless issues that currently plague the Buckeye Lake Dam. I think we all realize and agree that taking lives and property of residents around Buckeye Lake out of harm’s way is always the most important priority.”
Frank Foster, Former Mayor, Village of Buckeye Lake 2002-09

“The deficiencies that were identified in the report have been well known for years; however the recent revelations of the danger they now pose to the dam and the people in the area cannot be ignored. The condition of the dam must be addressed to protect lives and preserve the future of Buckeye Lake itself.
The Buckeye Lake Wastewater Plant is designed to withstand a 100 yr. flood event. Licking County has a general Emergency Action Plan in place and I will be working with the Licking County EMA, Ohio EPA and ODNR to update the plan to address critical areas at the Treatment Plant that could be affected in the event of a dam failure.”
Licking County Water & Wastewater Dept. Kevin C. Eby, Director

“The LEADS Community Action Agency has read the report of the United States Army Corps of Engineers Assessment of Buckeye Lake Dam and we have spoken to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on several occasions relating to that report. We support the efforts of ODNR to implement a permanent solution to this threat and to protect the lives and property of the residents of Buckeye Lake.”
LEADS, Ken Kempton, President & CEO

“I applaud Governor Kasich's commitment to spare a long-term future for Buckeye Lake by building a new dam.
“Good move, Governor @JohnKasich to spare a long-term future for the Buckeye Lake region. #BuckeyeLakeDam”
Heath-Newark-Licking County Port Authority, Rick Platt, President & CEO

Investigations and Reports

Supporting Documents

Planning Documents

Director's Testimony on Buckeye Lake

To request more information you may write to:

Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Dam Risk Reduction Project
2045 Morse Road, Building E-3
Columbus, Ohio 43229

or send an email communication to DamRiskReduction@dnr.state.oh.us.