Dam Safety Association Seeks Federal Investment to Repair Nation’s Dams

Nevada Engineer Rob Martinez says public safety at stake

Dam Safety

CARSON CITY, Nev. — The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) released last month new numbers on the national cost of rehabilitating the nation’s non-federal dams. The association recommends a federal program to fund rehabilitation of dams, which will encourage state funding programs and stretch the funding pool to maximize the number of dams that will be rehabilitated.

As the new Congress and administration focus funding on infrastructure improvements and the American Society of Civil Engineers releases its 2009 Infrastructure Report Card, dam safety officials announced new estimates for upgrades to non-federal dams.

The cost of needed dam repairs nationwide is $50 billion, including $16 billion for high-hazard-potential dams. These cost estimates have increased significantly since the Association’s 2003 report ($36 billion for all dams and $10.1 billion for high-hazard-potential dams). Of the $16 billion directed toward high-hazard dams (those whose failure would likely cause loss of human life), roughly $8.7 billion is needed to repair publicly owned dams with the remaining $7.3 billion needed for privately owned dams.

Rob Martinez, chief of engineering and dam safety with the Nevada Division of Water Resources and the current ASDO president, said that “rehabilitating dams not only sustains their benefits, but also protects public safety.

“ASDSO applauds the American Society of Civil Engineers and Building America’s Future, led by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, in bringing national attention to the aging infrastructure issue,” Martinez added. “In concert with these efforts, ASDSO asks the Obama administration and Congress to create a fund for dam rehabilitation—administered through state dam safety programs—that could focus dollars over several years toward the most critical dam rehabilitation needs.”

To eliminate the existing backlog of 1819 deficient high-hazard-potential dams over the next ten years, the number of high-hazard-potential dams repaired will need to be increased by an additional 270 dams per year above the number currently being repaired, Martinez said. ASDSO estimates that, in 2007, about $700 million was spent collectively to rehabilitate about 341 dams, according to state data on dam rehabilitations completed during that year.

The nation’s approximately 85,000 regulated dams provide vital benefits, including flood protection, water supply, hydropower, navigation, irrigation and recreation. While the estimated cost of rehabilitating our nation’s dams is high, the collective cost of deferring maintenance on these structures is staggering.

For information, contact Rob Martinez at 775-684-2844.

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