Going Out with a Blast: The Breaching of Bloede Dam
September 11 was a good day for the Patapsco River
Our aim was to breach the dam before Labor Day.
Rain. Rain. Rain. All year.
Nevermind. Too much rain. We’re working in a river. Water water everywhere. Project delayed.
No breach before September 6. More rain. There’s no way we can breach the dam before September 13. Let’s tell everyone.
Monday, September 10. We get a call from the contractor — hurricane coming. We’re breaching the dam tomorrow. What?? Everyone scrambles.
Tuesday, September 11. I arrived at the site of Bloede Dam in the morning. The plan was to blast out a slice of the dam on the Howard County, MD, side of the Patapsco River. Holes have been drilled in the dam already. The contractor is filling the holes with explosive charges. They are moving quickly. They want to make this happen today.
The breach is expected to happen around 2pm. Okay, let’s gather the safety gear and head over to the other side of the river. (This is a crazy site in Patapsco Valley State Park where you have to leave the main part of the construction site and drive around for like 15 minutes to the other side, and then hike another 15 minutes up to the dam where the breach will happen.)
2pm arrives. They are working on placing the blast mats over the holes containing the explosives. It’s like a mat jigsaw puzzle. The blast mats will help contain the explosive force when it detonates. So those are pretty important. We’ll wait.
RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN. I am not kidding. I am hanging out in a picnic pavilion in the pouring rain. This will cause another delay. At least people will leave the park and stay out of the river, so there’s less of a safety concern.
The excitement and nervous energy is building in the picnic pavilion. A number of our closest project partners and a few regulators have gathered for the breach. Everyone asks if people are hearing a signal. No… just the train rolling along.
Around 4pm or so we hear three horn blasts. It is the three-minute warning. Everyone is standing. This is it! Then… a rumble like a roll of thunder sounds from upstream. I shout WOO HOO!! Cheers all around.
We get the “all clear” and start our trek up to the dam. We had to be a distance away from the dam for safety reasons. No one got to see the blast in person. Thank goodness for modern technology.
My first glimpse of the dam is surprisingly dry. The river is hiding. Where’s the breach? I can’t even see it yet.
The big hole comes into view. I have never been so excited to have put a giant hole in something before. I feel like a toddler run rampant with their first pair of scissors.
The feeling of triumph is prolific. There’s no turning back now. This dam is coming down. Finally.
The next step will be to knock down the remaining structure with hydraulic hammers. You can check out the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Bloede Dam website to see that progress.
We are removing Bloede Dam so that no one else dies in the undercurrent at the base of the dam and so that migratory fish can be free to move upstream to live and spawn. This river will be healthier, and people will be able to paddle through this site, play in the flowing water, and find their zen in fishing. I cannot wait to see the Patapsco come back to life! Don’t worry… we’ll share it with you too.