Those Dam Problems

By Greg Baer M.D.

July 3, 2012

In our backyard is a man-made lake, which was created by making an earthen dam on our side of the water. We also have beavers in the backyard, which make homes by burrowing into the dam. In the past, I trapped the beavers—or hired a trapper—because their digging created potential weak spots in the dam.

Eventually, though, I got tired of the effort and expense of trapping, so I quit. We do have a lake association, consisting of all the families whose property touches the shore, but they weren't interested in sharing responsibility for the beavers. Their attitude was, "The beavers were here before we were, so just leave them alone."

As I was walking the nature trail around the lake one morning, I noticed that the face of the dam was wet in one place, even though there had been no recent rain. It stayed wet for a week, and then I found water bubbling from the base of the dam, at about the rate of a garden hose running at half speed. The leak was exactly opposite an abandoned beaver home on the lake.

A small leak in an earthen dam can grow very quickly. In 1976, for example, the earthen Teton Dam was built in eastern Idaho, and just before it was completely filled, a small leak developed at the base, much like in my backyard. Within just four hours, the dam collapsed, releasing about 100 million gallons of water onto the fields, roads, and towns downstream. The destruction of lives and property was considerable. Water will find the weak spot. Assisted by gravity, it can't help itself.

I wrote the members of the lake association, explaining that we could wake up any morning and discover that all the water in the lake had disappeared. Because the lake is slowly filled by a natural spring, refilling it would probably take many months.

My email was ignored, along with a second, but then the leak became progressively larger, and finally I got the attention of one of the association members who is a contractor. We hired a man to dig down to the leak with a backhoe and fill in the area with compacted clay. So far the leak has not reappeared.

From time to time, we all have minor leaks in our emotional lives. We become afraid, angry, withdrawn, and so on, and often these feelings and behaviors indicate much bigger problems that have existed for a long time. We need to pay attention to the leaks while they're small. If we don't, they rarely fix themselves and may develop into floods that cause great injury to ourselves and others.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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