Advocating on the Hill for Funding of Critical Dam Programs

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In an effort to raise the Dams grade, which received a “D” in the 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, ASCE and the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) spent two days on Capitol Hill last week advocating for funding the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program and the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) – programs that were recommended in the 2013 Report Card. The High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program was authorized in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 and provides federal grant assistance for the rehabilitation, repair, or removal of non-federal high hazard potential dams. This program gives states and localities the tools they need to fix or decommission our nation’s most hazardous dams, and ultimately, the ability to protect the public health and safety of their communities.  Funding the program is a recommendation to raise the grade in the 2017 Report Card.

High hazard potential dams are those whose failure would result in the loss of life, and the number of them in the nation is growing rapidly because of continued population growth and development below dams. In fact, the number of high hazard potential dams increased from 10,213 dams in 2005 to 15,500 in 2015 – a growth of nearly 52% in just a decade. It is estimated that an investment of nearly $22 billion is needed to repair aging high hazard potential dams. Unfortunately, the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program has not yet received any appropriations, and until Congress funds this critical program, dam owners will not be able to access the resources they need to repair, upgrade, or decommission these high hazard potential dams.

Three decades ago, Congress passed the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP), which provides state dam safety agencies with federal grant assistance to be used for training state dam safety engineers, research, and for the creation of a National Inventory of Dams (NID). Although the NDSP has only been funded at slightly over $9 million a year out of its authorized yearly amount of $13.9 million a year, it has been incredibly successfully in identifying the age and condition of our nation’s dams. We now know that the average age of our nation’s dams is 56 years old, and by 2025, seven out of 10 dams in the U.S. will be over 50 years old. ASDSO estimates that the combined total cost to rehabilitate the nation’s non-federal and federal dams exceeds $64 billion.

Earlier this year, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) sent a letter – along with 14 other Senators – to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking them to fully fund the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program. ASCE supported this effort and continues to urge Congress to fund both the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program at is fully authorized amount of $10 million in Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018 and the National Dam Safety Program at its fully authorized amount of $13.9 million a year. These programs serve an important function in improving public safety and reducing and mitigating risk of dam failure in our nation.

Join in the ask for funding of the rehabilitation program by sending a letter to your Members of Congress.

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