Washington, D.C.— Millions of Americans are living in the shadow of dangerous dams all across the country, but that may be about to change, thanks to quick action by the House of Representatives to pass the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2007 (H.R 3224), sponsored by Representative John T. Salazar (D-CO). The bill, which authorizes 200 million dollars to help fix, or remove publicly owned dams all across the country, now heads to the Senate.
The money can’t come soon enough. According to statistics by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), more than ten thousand dams across America could become killers if they fail and 1,333 of those dams are considered unsafe.
Meanwhile, 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.
“This past summer in Minnesota we saw the horrors than can happen when infrastructure fails,” said Rebecca Wodder, President of American Rivers ™. “It’s exciting to see the House take decisive action; it’s time for the Senate to do the same.”
Senators will soon get their chance to act. Companion legislation has been introduced by Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and George Voinovich (R-OH). Both men have a large stake in the issue. In 2006, the Ka Loko Dam in Hawaii failed and killed 7 people. Meanwhile, Ohio is currently facing a crisis with its dams. According to the ASDSO, there are 170 high hazard, structurally deficient dams in the Buckeye State, only Pennsylvania has more.
“Representative Salazar has shown tremendous leadership on this issue,” added Wodder. “The problem of dangerous dams is one that faces every single American, and we urge the Senate follow the lead of the House by tackling the problem of dangerous dams head on.”
The raw numbers facing us 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 U.S. is responsible for more than 400 dams. The ASDSO recommends that each inspector be 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.
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.
Dam removal restores a free flowing river, and enables numerous economic and recreational opportunities. It also helps release dam owners from daunting legal and financial responsibilities. Dam owners are liable for damages to properties if their dam fails. They can also be sued for injuries or fatalities caused by the mere existence of their dam, such as a paddler going over the dam and drowning in the deadly recirculating current.
“Not only do many dams pose a threat to life and property, but a dam failure could literally bankrupt its owner,” said Wodder. “Common sense says these albatrosses should be removed so our communities can be physically and financially safer and healthier places to live.”
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
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.