“Dammed” if you Don’t

May 14, 2019

The title is not a typo. I am talking about dams in today’s blog. 

The website damsafety.org recently reported that the United States would need to spend more than $70 billion to rehabilitate all of the dams across the nation. It would be a massive undertaking to finally start addressing every single dam that needs to be fixed or replaced. The website says that price tag is according to a 2019 update of a report from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). The cost to rehabilitate the highest risk dams is up to more than $23 billion. 

www.damsafety.org says: Using the information in the 2018 National Inventory of Dams (NID), a database published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, ASDSO can estimate the cost of rehabilitating our nation’s more than 90,000 dams. In 2003, ASDSO published its original cost estimates in a report entitled The Cost of Rehabilitating Our Nation’s Dams: A Methodology, Estimate and Proposed Funding Mechanisms. The report was updated in 2009, 2012, 2016, and 2019. 

Current figures place the total cost estimated for non-federal dams at $65.89 billion, up from the last estimate of $60.70 billion. Non-federal, high-hazard potential dams are estimated at $20.42 billion, up from $18.71 billion. High-hazard potential dams are those where failure or mis-operation will likely lead to loss of human life. 

As it is with infrastructure, you won’t get far in implementing any federal program if you don’t come up with some kind of mechanism or magical formula that funds dam repair. The interesting thing about dams in the US is that unlike roads and bridges, most dams are privately owned, which makes their owners responsible for repair, maintenance, upgrades, and replacement. 

The website also says, “On the state level, ASDSO encourages loan and grant programs for rehabilitation funding. A dam safety program cannot be complete without a mechanism to address funding for dam repairs and rehabilitation, and while a few states have already established these programs, the majority have not. On the national level, ASDSO encourages full funding for the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehab Grant Program and for federal agencies to continue supporting dam safety initiatives. 

Here’s a very brief look at one reason why there are so many dams in need of repair or replacement.