The Loch Mary Reservoir holds enough water to fill about 715 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
All that stands between that wall of water and Annette Rudolph’s Earlington, Kentucky neighborhood is a 95-year-old earthen dam, deteriorating and seeping water Rudolph, 70, has lived in the neighborhood she calls “The Bottom” all her life, and floods are routine there. State inspectors have told the dam’s owner, the city of Earlington, that heavy rain could overtop it — “threatening the safety of the residents downstream,” according to a 2018 inspection report.

Yet local officials don’t have a crisis plan for a dam failure. The county emergency manager would have to lead a crisis response, but he doesn’t have maps showing which houses would be inundated or how far the water would travel. Officials have not practiced a response.To Rudolph, that means if the dam breaks, “we’re on our own.”“If you can’t swim, you’re just a damn dead pigeon.”

The Loch Mary Reservoir dam is one of 80 in Kentucky that state inspectors have deemed to be a two-fold risk: high-hazard, because a breach would threaten lives or property, and in poor or unsatisfactory condition. Only six of those dams have complete emergency plans on file with the state, according to a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting investigation.