House panel backs bills to renew, fund dam safety program

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved bills Sept. 20 that would reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program for five years and create a $350 million National Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Program for non-federal, publicly owned dams.

The Dam Safety Act of 2006, H.R.4981, introduced by Rep. John Kuhl Jr., R-N.Y., would reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program through fiscal year 2011. The program, which is scheduled to expire Sept. 30, provides incentive grants to encourage states to improve their dam safety programs through training, technical assistance, research, and support.

Kuhl’s bill would authorize a total of $12 million a year for the five years, including: $8 million to be shared by states and allocated based on the relative number of dams in each state; $2 million in research funds to identify more effective techniques to assess, construct, and monitor dams; $700,000 in training assistance to state engineers; and $1 million for the National Inventory of Dams.

A second bill, the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2005, H.R.1105, introduced by Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., would amend the National Dam Safety Program Act. It would establish a grant program for states to rehabilitate publicly owned state and local dams that fail to meet minimum safety standards and pose an unacceptable risk to the public. The bill would authorize $350 million over four years: $50 million for FY 2007, and $100 million each year for fiscal years 2008-2010.

However, the Kelly bill does not address privately owned dams. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials has estimated there are more than 52,000 privately owned dams in the U.S., with an estimated 45 percent of those in need of rehabilitation.

Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, where the Environment and Public Works Committee endorsed a bill by Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., to reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program Act, S.2735. That bill was placed on the Senate legislative calendar in July, but no action has been taken. Another bill, the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2006, S.2444, was introduced in March by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. It remains in the Committee on Environment and Public Works. (HNN 7/31/06)

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