Alabama remains only U.S. state lacking a state dam safety program

Alabama is the only state left in the U.S. lacking a state dam safety program and a full inventory of dams. The statewide dam safety risk is unknown because 98% of Alabama dams are not inspected or monitored. This lack also prevents the state from fully leveraging federal funding budgeted to fix high hazard dams identified in the 2015 Report Card for Alabama’s Infrastructure.

The report, prepared using data attained by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), says of the 11 major infrastructure categories ASCE graded for Alabama’s infrastructure — aviation, energy, ports, rail, bridges, wastewater, inland waterways, roads, dams, drinking water, and transit — only one received an “Incomplete” — dams.

Alabama’s estimated 2,200 dams are not overseen by a dam safety program. As a result, according to ASCE, the state received an “Incomplete” in the 2015 inaugural Infrastructure Report Card that was released earlier this month.

Only an estimated 2% of all known dams in Alabama are being inspected for safety, properly maintained and have emergency action plans in place for use in case of a failure.

One facility that does have a dam safety program in place includes 225-MW Walter Bouldin hydroelectric project in Elmore County, operated by Alabama Power Co.

The scheme comprises Walter Bouldin Dam, an earthen dam constructed in 1967 that impounds the Coosa River creating Bouldin Lake. Its powerhouse contains three generating units.

The Walter Bouldin project is the seventh and final string of seven hydroelectric projects operated by Alabama Power Co. on the Coosa River and it is also the largest of the company’s hydroelectric facilities.

Alabama’s known dams, built generations ago, continue to age and the size of the population downstream of these dams continues to increase, placing more people and property at greater risk.

Only about 1 in 5 of identified high hazard potential dams receive inspections.

ASCE recommends Alabama enact a state dam safety program to identify and prioritize repair of aging dams and reduce the risk of possible dam failures.

“Alabama shouldn’t continue to be unaware of the location, category and condition of all the dams in the state,” said Dusty Myers, president-elect of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

“As the population continues to grow, now is the time to implement a dam safety program that will develop a complete inventory of the state’s dams and ensure that all high hazard dams have emergency action plans.”

Much of the state’s infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life and continuing into disrepair, the report card said. It also states existing funding to address aging infrastructure assets falls significantly short.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for

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