Virginia bill threatens to put its citizens and local rivers at risk

Recently, the Virginia Senate passed legislation (SB 276) that strips Virginia Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Dam Safety Office of its ability to order repairs on dams it finds deficient, if that dam has an Emergency Action Plan in place, unless the state has funding to pay for said repairs themselves. This deals a crippling blow to an office that is responsible for regulating more than 1,637 dams throughout the state, of which 321 are classified as high or significant hazard. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers, which grades state infrastructure, issued the Commonwealth of Virginia a D- for the condition of Virginia’s dams. They estimate that more than 50,000 people live in the dam break inundation zones of dams deemed noncompliant.

This is unacceptable. State agencies and the budgets that support them are already stressed to the point of breaking in this current economic climate. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) estimates that some $218 million is needed to bring Virginia’s dams up to minimum dam safety standards. There is no state funding to pay for repairs to these dams, and an Emergency Action Plan will not guarantee that lives and personal property will be spared if these structures fail. With dam ownership comes the responsibility for repairing and maintaining the structure. Most dams have an average structural life of 50 years, and dam owners should factor repair costs and/or the eventual removal of the dam when considering the cost of building the structure.

This bill will now move on to the Virginia House. We urge you to contact your Virginia Delegate and ask them to oppose this legislation. The Virginia General Assembly cannot afford to put the Commonwealth’s citizens, property, and its rivers in any more risk than they currently are.