Engineers, Safety Officials Celebrate Passage of Dam Legislation by House

Thu October 26, 2006 - National Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

Civil engineers and dam safety officials hailed the passage of the Dam Safety Act of 2006 as a crucial step forward in protecting the public from the increasing number of deficient and high hazard dams. Since 1998, the number of high-hazard dams in the United States has increased by more than 900 (to 10,213), and the number of unsafe dams has increased by 1,370 (to more than 3,500). And, by 2020, the majority of U.S. dams will be more than 50 years old — beyond their design life, according to officials.

“Dams are incredibly beneficial, providing us drinking water, flood control, recreation and many other important services. However, the potential for extensive loss of life and economic disaster when a dam fails can be catastrophic,” said American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) President Dennis R. Martenson. “Reauthorizing the National Dam Safety Program is a critical step in protecting the public’s safety and maintaining the ability of the nation’s dams to meet the needs of our citizens.”

This legislation, introduced by Rep. Randy Kuhl (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), will reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program, a national program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that seeks to improve the safety and security of the nation’s dams.

The reauthorization will allow FEMA to continue leading national safety efforts, including research, technology transfer, communication between state and federal agencies, and training for state dam safety engineers. The grant assistance component of the act also will provide vital support for the improvement of state dam safety programs, which regulate 95 percent of the more than 78,000 dams in the United States.

“We are grateful to Representatives Kuhl and Matheson for recognizing the importance of maintaining infrastructure,” said Association of State Dam Safety Officials President Jim Gallagher. “The National Dam Safety Program provides essential resources for states to protect lives and property by increasing the number of dam inspections, stepping up enforcement actions to correct deficient dams, and educating dam owners on proper operation and maintenance.”

Dams can provide many benefits including flood protection, drinking water, hydroelectric power, irrigation and recreation. However, without proper maintenance, dams can be hazardous structures. Failure or improper operation of dams can result in loss of human life, economic loss, lifeline disruption and environmental damage. In order to provide safe, continuous service, dams require ongoing maintenance, monitoring, frequent safety inspections and rehabilitation. Reauthorization of this program will provide federal leadership and assistance to the state-level programs that shoulder the enormous burden of assuring the safety of our nation’s dams, officials said.

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