In many ways, great progress has been made to improve the safety of the 84,000 dams in the U.S.
The number of inspections and the number of “high hazard” dams with emergency action plans are on the rise. Thanks to new reporting requirements, more information and stronger enforcement authority, dam safety officials know more about the condition of U.S. dams than ever before.
In other ways, however, dam safety has suffered a major setback as funding to repair the nation’s aging and deteriorating dams has been slashed amid cuts to state and federal budgets.
The issue was thoroughly vetted during Dam Safety 2011, held last month in Washington, D.C. More than 1,000 dam safety professionals attended the event, which is organized by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
I sat down with ASDSO President John Moyle to discuss the state of Dam Safety in the U.S. and the challenges posed by diminishing funds for dam repair and rehabilitation.
“We have seen numbers increasing for inspections and emergency action plans,” Moyle said. “Those are two key indicators. The third indicator is where we need the most help — the rehabilitation dollars.”
The National Inventory of Dams database now requires states to provide a condition assessment, a new field that was added in 2009. As a result, five states have determined the condition of 100 percent of their dams while 30 states have determined the condition of 75 percent of their dams.
The number of state-regulated dams in need of remediation has risen to 4,400, Moyle said.
“The reason that number has gone up is because we’re inspecting more dams,” he said.
Meanwhile, funding for dam safety and security programs is decreasing while populations downstream of dams continue to grow.
Funding for the National Dam Safety Program, which provides funding for the safety and security of U.S. dams and is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is set to be cut nearly in half, from more than $11 million to about $6 million.
“There’s going to be less funding to the states, less funding for training and maybe no money for research,” Moyle said.
Brian Pallasch, managing director of government relations for the American Society of Civil Engineers, said a 50-percent cut in funding for dam safety and security is unacceptable.
“We’re not willing to agree to a 50-percent cut in the program,” Pallasch told conference attendees during the opening session.
What’s more, legislation that would establish a National Rehabilitation Program for U.S. dams has stalled on Capitol Hill, Pallasch said.
“We need a rehabilitation program because you have done your work, especially in the last 10 to 12 years,” he said. “We know where all the bad dams are. We just don’t have enough money to fix them.”
The Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act would provide $200 million for the repair, rehabilitation and removal of publicly-owned dams. The industry estimates $12 billion is needed to repair the nation’s most critical dams.
Consider this: The industry reported a 418-percent increase in the number deficient, high-hazard dams between 1999 and 2008. During the same period, however, the number of high-hazard dams that were remediated increased only 24 percent.
The numbers illustrate a disturbing trend in dam safety. It’s eye-opening evidence of a looming national crisis that deserves immediate action by Congress.
Russell Ray is Senior Editor of Hydro Review magazine and Conference Committee Chairman of HydroVision International. Russell has 12 years experience as an energy journalist, covering the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma and the growth of solar and nuclear power in Florida. He served eight years as the energy reporter for the Tulsa World. He held the same position at the Tampa Tribune for two and a half years before joining Hydro Review in 2009.
The information and views expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of RenewableEnergyWorld.com or the companies that advertise on this Web site and other publications. This blog was posted directly by the author and was not reviewed for accuracy, spelling or grammar.
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