Association of State Dam Safety Officials Applauds and Supports Introduction of Rebuild America Act

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Bill Supports Federal Investment in Rehabilitation of Dams and Levees

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Lack of funding for dam upgrades is a serious national problem, especially for non-federal dams. The cost of rehabilitating our nation’s high-hazard-potential dams has been estimated at approximately $18.2 billion.

Representing experts dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of the nation’s more than 87,000 dams, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) applauds Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for introducing a bill that will get the nation closer to alleviating the public safety risk of over 2,000 dams that are the most “at-risk”, while providing a continuation of the vital benefits that dams serve for the public and their owners.

“Dams are integral to our nation’s infrastructure and provide important benefits, but in many cases, would put people and property at risk should they fail,” said Lori Spragens, executive director of ASDSO. “We all have a role to play in creating a future where all dams are safe. A national commitment to improving dam safety today will save lives and property tomorrow. With the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act last year, the past Congress showed a real commitment to fixing our infrastructure. This commitment continues with Senator Sanders’s introduction of the Rebuild America Act.”

According to Senator Sanders, “The Rebuild America Act would provide $12 billion a year to upgrade high-hazard-potential dams that provide flood control, drinking water, hydropower and recreation, and for levees that protect our cities and farms. These programs improve public safety and allow our dam and levee infrastructure to perform as intended.” By having these programs in place, the federal government helps to mitigate failures and save Americans money by reducing emergency relief spending.

From 1998 to 2008, the recorded number of deficient dams (those with structural or hydraulic deficiencies leaving them susceptible to failure) more than doubled—from 1,818 to 4,308. Although there have been modest gains in repair of deficient dams, the number of dams identified as unsafe is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired.

The number of high-hazard-potential dams and levees (dams and levees whose failure would cause loss of human life) is increasing dramatically because of downstream development. Since 1998, the number of high-hazard-potential dams has increased from 9,281 to more than 14,700 in the 2013 update of the National Inventory of Dams. Of these, about 2,000 are considered deficient – the most “at-risk.”

Over the past few years more than 65 dam failures have been documented.

Lack of funding for dam upgrades is a serious national problem, especially for non-federal dams. Operation, maintenance, and rehabilitation of dams can range in cost from the low thousands to millions, and responsibility for these expenses lies with owners, many of whom cannot afford these costs. Although some states offer loan programs, funding assistance, through government or private sources, is minimal at best. Current ASDSO figures place the total cost of rehabilitating our nation’s high-hazard potential dams at approximately $18.2 billion ($11.2 billion for publicly-owned dams and $7 billion for privately-owned dams).

ASDSO encourages members of the public to educate themselves on both the benefits of dams and levees, and the risks of dam and levee incidents and failures. More information on staying safe near dams can be found in ASDSO’s informational guide, Living With Dams: Know Your Risks, which the organization developed in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A companion guide on living near levees is distributed through the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Visit ASDSO's website for more information on dam and levee safety.

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) is a national, non-profit organization founded in 1984 and dedicated to improving dam safety through research, education and communication. Web:

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Lori Spragens
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