Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s call to action on funding our nations dams

By on December 20, 2019

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand began a compassionate plea for our aging dam infrastructure earlier this week in a letter to leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is crafting a new water resources bill.

Gillibrand, a member of the committee, expressed concern about the genuine threats that surround the lives of the people who live around the 1,688 identified high-risk dams and sent out an active call for preventative action.

These 1,688 dams have been reported as having a rating of either inadequate or unsatisfactory as recently as 2018 in federal data and reports and pose an immediate danger. As of last year, 44 states and Puerto Rico all reported a known hazardous dam within their state.

Mark Ogden, technical specialist with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials and a former Ohio dam safety official was quoted as saying “There are thousands of people in this country that are living downstream from dams that are probably considered deficient given current safety standards,”

The real number has yet to be discovered since in many states no rating has been done at all, due to lack of staff to handle such an enormous task, lack of funding and since dams are privately owned, the lack of authority to mandate such ratings even be done. The nation’s dams are, on average, over 50 years old.

Originally built for recreation, water supply, industrial waste storage, irrigation, flood control, or hydropower, many of these dams are unable to handle the changing and increased flooding and rainfall and climate changes that have taken place over the past 50 years.

Seventy billion dollars is the number being thrown around to rehab the federal and non-federal dams in the United States in a 2019 report from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). The cost to rehab the high-risk dams is running over 23 billion dollars. High-risk dams are those dams that a failure or operational mishap would lead to potential loss of life.

This problem is not new and has been ongoing with reports about the danger and need for rehabbing the infrastructure going back as far as 2003.

Gillibrand said she would push for full funding for the program in 2021. Establishing regulations that would be mandated across the board that would be flexible enough to aid dam owners but still allow the Army Corps participation.