U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced Oct. 10 that Congress passed legislation that opens the door for Vermont to receive federal funds to repair three aging flood-control dams.
The America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 includes an amendment authored by Sanders in the Senate and Welch in the House that authorizes safety improvements at certain state-owned flood control dams constructed by the federal government before 1940. In Vermont, three dams — the Waterbury, East Barre and Wrightsville dams — are eligible to receive funding under this provision.
"These dams are essential pieces of Vermont's infrastructure," said Sanders, who is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "Maintaining and repairing the dams — especially the Waterbury Dam — has long been a priority for the state. This bipartisan legislation is an important step toward rebuilding aging dams in Vermont and throughout the United States."
Welch said, "In 2011, Waterbury suffered a devastating flood during Tropical Storm Irene. More catastrophic damage was prevented due to the existence of the aging Waterbury Dam. This important legislation will increase funding to refurbish outdated and hazardous flood control dams in Vermont and across the country."
The federal government built the Waterbury, East Barre and Wrightsville dams in the 1930s after the devastating 1927 flood caused massive destruction and loss of life in the Winooski River basin from Central Vermont to Burlington.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed and the Civilian Construction Corps built the three flood-control dams on tributaries of the Winooski River to reduce the risk of future flooding.
The federal government later transferred ownership of the dams to the state of Vermont, but did not include any provisions for the upkeep of the dams. The Waterbury Dam, in particular, now has major repair needs.
The Sanders-Welch amendment authorizes up to $40 million to study, design and construct control gates, spillways and other dam safety improvements for each of the flood control dams constructed by the federal government before 1940, but currently owned by state governments.
America's Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which has been sent to the president for his signature, also includes other important provisions:
- Authorizes $5 million a year in grants and $25 million year for technical assistance for lead testing in schools, which will help towns from Flint, Mich., to Richford, Vt.;
- Authorizes $15 million a year to test small drinking water systems for 30 unregulated contaminants, including PFAS chemicals like PFOA, that have been found in Bennington County. It also protects small public water systems from penalty for any inability to comply with sampled monitoring;
- Authorizes $100 million through 2020 in disaster aid to repair drinking water systems or to connect areas to public water systems to obtain potable drinking water;
- Requires projects funded through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to use iron and steel manufactured in the U.S.;
- Requires the Army Corps of Engineers to consider natural infrastructure alternatives to reduce damage from floods;
- Expresses the Sense of Congress that the Army Corps should advance the Cano Martin Peña project in Puerto Rico, an important environmental restoration and affordable housing project supported by several Vermont organizations;
- Directs the Army Corps to study and report on Alaska Native community relocation efforts;
- Establishes the WaterSense program at EPA to promote more efficient water use;
- Authorizes $10 million each year for grants and technical assistance to small- and medium-sized public water utilities to help meet Clean Water Act requirements;
- Allows states to use State Revolving Funds on source water protection to prevent drinking water contamination;
- Authorizes $225 million each year for grants to states for stormwater management;
- Authorizes the Army Corps of Engineers to develop solutions that reduce the occurrence of harmful algal blooms; and
- Authorizes $1 million each year to assist with workforce development and career opportunities in the water utility sector.