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About Dam Time?



With signs of climate issues everywhere, “decrepit dams” across the country are getting more attention. Infrastructure dollars have jump started some badly needed work, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced a low-cost loan application to spur more projects.


Desperate For Rehabilitation

Despite the critical role they play, dams across the country are indeed in desperate need of attention. In fact, for example, the Association of State Dam Safety says,“$158 billion is needed to fix more than 88,000 non-federal dams deemed deficient across the country.” Rising water levels and the importance of flood mitigation have elevated attention to dams, as Construction Dive reports:


In Michigan, the Edenville and Sanford dam failures have spurred litigation and finger pointing as to who was ultimately responsible for the collapse after warning signs emerged nearly a decade earlier. And in the wake of the near toppling of the Oroville Dam in California…a disaster that was only narrowly averted by sacrificing the structure’s crumbling main spillway, more questions have arisen about the country’s aging dam infrastructure. Meanwhile, the possibility of an “Arkstorm,” where California receives two back-to-back years of atmospheric rivers, prompted The New York Times Magazine to publish a cover article looking at California’s dams, titled “The Trillion Gallon Question.”


Construction Dive also shares that though it certainly won’t solve all the dam problems, a new initiative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will drive critical action:


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has opened applications for a new $7.5 billion low-cost loan program that will help finance $15 billion worth of dam safety projects….The loans are available for safety projects with eligible costs of more than $20 million and to those that are listed in the National Inventory of Dams….The program is currently limited to non-federally owned, operated and maintained dam projects. It will pay for up to 49% of project costs, or up to 80% for projects in disadvantaged communities….“The Corps Water Infrastructure Financing Program provides a new and significant tool that can be used to keep the nation’s infrastructure resilient and dependable for multiple generations,” said Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works….“As we deal with unprecedented climate challenges that require robust and effective infrastructure, this new financing program will enable continued investment by our local communities in their infrastructure.”


In addition to the Army Corps loan initiative, dam projects across the country are getting help from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which earmarked “$3 billion for dam projects over five years.” While some dams are benefitting from urgently needed repair, others are designated for removal, because they are dangerous for surrounding communities, river ecosystems and fisheries.



Important To Know: Decrepit Dams?

The average age of dams listed in the National Inventory is 61, and as Julie Strupp reports:  


The price tag to remediate just the most critical dams is estimated at $34.1 billion. Rehabilitation becomes necessary as dams age, technical standards and techniques evolve and downstream populations and land use change. Many dam owners, especially private ones, find it difficult to finance upkeep, but deferring maintenance can lead to disastrous failures. Plus, extreme weather induced by climate change is stressing aging dams across the nation and pushing them to their breaking points.


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