1,333 Unsafe Dams Threaten Nation’s Communities
Unsafe High Hazard Dams Litter the USSeptember 6th, 2007
Garrett Russo, American Rivers, (202) 423-9494
Stephanie Lindloff, American Rivers, (518) 482-2631
Washington, D.C. — More than ten thousand dams across America could become killers if they fail and 1,333 of those dams are considered unsafe. This Sunday, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) holds their annual conference in Austin, TX. Statistics developed by ASDSO show that an alarming number of dams in the United States pose a threat to human life and many of them are structurally unsafe.
Congress will soon consider the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2007 (H.R 3224) which would direct $200 million to states for improving the safety of publicly-owned dams, through either repairing or removing problem dams. To date, only 11 members have signed on to co-sponsor the bill introduced by Congressman John Salazar (D-CO).
“Dams across the country are living on borrowed time, and many of our communities are at risk,” said American Rivers’ President Rebecca Wodder. “Closing our eyes to the problem doesn’t make it disappear; Congress needs to take action now.”
The raw numbers facing every American are alarming. According to the ASDSO:
- There are more than 87,000 dams currently under state regulation
- 10,127 have been classified as high hazard, meaning they pose a serious threat to human life if they should fail
- Of those high hazard dams, 1,333 have been identified as structurally deficient or unsafe
- The average dam inspector in the US is responsible for more than 400 dams. The ASDSO recommends that each inspector is responsible for fewer than 50 dams.
Even more disturbing, there is no accurate count for just how many dams there actually are in the United States. The National Inventory of Dams, maintained by Army Corps of Engineers, tracks about 80 thousand dams. And when state dam inventories are totaled, there are more than 100 thousand. But neither number is particularly reliable, since states have varying definitions of dams. In some states, such as Missouri, a 34-foot high structure isn’t even considered a dam. Alabama doesn’t even have a dam safety program and doesn’t track the number of dams in the state.
“The first step in solving a problem is identifying just what the problem is,” added Wodder. “By not even knowing how many dams there are, lawmakers are gambling with people’s safety.”
Many Americans live in the shadow of high hazard dams — some of which are structurally unsafe — and don’t even know it. Most states don’t require that people are notified if they live within a dam failure inundation zone, and evacuation plans in the event of a dam failure are rarely well-publicized.
The American Society of Civil Engineers grades the nation’s infrastructure on a regular basis. Dams have repeatedly received a D. The same group has given the nation’s bridges a C.
Armed with such statistics, communities all across the country are finding that removing many of these dangerous structures is often the safest, most cost effective way of fixing the problem. Many dams in the America have outlived their usefulness, and about 10 percent have no known owner. Getting rid of these relics not only removes a hazard to the community, but can also provide natural flood protection by allowing the river to flow freely.
“This past summer in Minnesota, we all got a horrific wake up call on the state of our nation’s infrastructure. We simply cannot afford to press the snooze button. We must get out of bed, and get to work,” added Wodder.
See all the ASDSO Statistics at www.AmericanRivers.org/NationalDamStats
American Rivers experts are available for interview, either via satellite for television, or via telephone for radio, online, and print. Please contact Press Secretary Garrett Russo at (202) 423-9494 to schedule an interview