At least 15,600 of the country’s 91,000 dams are classified as “high-hazard” structures. If they fail, the potential for loss of life and property damage is high. Though insufficient to address all the problems—and possibilities—within our dam system, the $3 billion allocated in the Infrastructure and Jobs Act is anticipated to get some critical improvements flowing.
Safety, Efficiency, and Hydropower Too
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials has estimated the total cost of rehabilitating all of the high-hazard dams around the country at over $20 billion. Nonetheless, as Construction Dive reports, the $3 billion from the Infrastructure and Jobs Act is important.
The act addresses problematic dams in three ways:
- rehabilitating them for safety and efficiency.
- retrofitting them to enhance electricity production and protect marine wildlife.
- removing the ones that no longer provide many benefits and harm the environment.
Currently, only about 3% of U.S. dams, or 2,500, produce electricity, a key source of renewable energy. According to a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, the country could grow its hydropower capacity by a third by 2050 and avoid $209 billion in costs from greenhouse gas emissions damages by upgrading dams that produce power and adding that capacity to ones that don’t. The act moves towards that goal with funds to do just that.
A variety of federal agencies will oversee the surge in dam and other infrastructure funding, and are charged with administering new grants and creating new programs. Local and state government agencies, including water utilities and transportation departments, must identify and execute projects in their area. That may include hiring new people and sometimes mobilizing their own financial resources.
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Over, Under, Around and Through?
With so many water projects in need of attention around the country, the federal infrastructure investment in clean drinking water and restoration of heavily polluted areas, like the Great Lakes region, is also critical. Experts see attention to our waterways as part of the solution to both failing infrastructure and climate change. Of course the bridges, tunnels, roads and rails that carry us over and under water are long overdue for attention too. The number of bridges the American Road and Transportation Builder’s Association says are in need of replacement is estimated at 79,500! The new federal infrastructure package aims to propel progress with allocations including $110 billion for roads, bridges and major infrastructure projects; $66 billion for passenger and freight rail improvements; $65 billion for broadband improvements; $65 billion to rebuild the electrical grid; $39 billion to modernize public transit; and, $25 billion for airports.
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