Toccoa, GA Dam Failure and Flood, Nov 1977
Kelly Barnes Dam was an earthen embankment dam once located in Stephens County, Georgia, just outside of the city of Toccoa. It collapsed on November 6, 1977 after a period of heavy rainfall, and the resulting flood killed 39 people and caused $2.8 million in damages. The dam was never rebuilt, and the Toccoa Falls downstream of the dam site is now a memorial and tourist attraction on the campus of Toccoa Falls College.
On November 6, 1977, at 1:30 am, the Kelly Barnes Dam failed after a period of heavy rain; seven inches had fallen from November 2–5. In particular, 3½ inches fell between 6 pm and midnight, November 5. A total of 200 feet of the dam had failed, causing a peak of 24,000 cubic feet per second maximum discharge to burst downstream. Barnes Lake at the time held an estimated 27,442,800 cubic feet of water compared to a normal volume of 17,859,600 cubic feet.
The flood caused 39 fatalities along with destroying nine houses, 18 house trailers, two college buildings and many motor vehicles. Five houses and five college buildings were also damaged. Two bridges on Toccoa Falls Drive and a culvert at County Farm Road were completely destroyed. The embankments at Georgia Highway 17 were destroyed on either side of the bridge, and one of the bridge abutments at Highview Road was destroyed. The water-supply pipe for the city of Toccoa was damaged and the city's water supply was contaminated for several days.
After the flood, Georgia's Governor George Busbee called for an immediate investigation, which was carried out by a Federal Investigative Board of the United States Geological Survey. Their report was released December 21, 1977, with no specific cause(s) cited for the failure. The investigators had no engineering plans for the dam and records of construction on the dam were based on witnesses, pictures and newspaper articles.
The investigation did, however, cite several possible or probable causes. The failure of the dam's slope may have contributed to weakness in the structure, particularly in the heavy rain. A collapse of the low-level spillway could have also exacerbated this problem. A 1973 photo showed a 12-foot-high, 30-foot-wide slide had occurred on the downstream face of the dam, which may have also contributed or foreshadowed the dam failure. Overall, the dam itself was in poor condition and lacked a sufficient design.