Safety act for small dams introduced to U.S. Senate

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced the High Hazard Potential Small Dam Safety Act to Congress on April 26.

This bipartisan legislation seeks to provide federal grant assistance for the rehabilitation and repair of non-federal high-hazard-potential dams.

The act would provide grants to repair or replace some of the estimated 4,000 dams in the U.S. considered unsafe or deficient.

Currently, there is no federal program to assist states with the repair or removal of non-agricultural, non-hydroelectric, non-federal high-hazard-potential small dams, according to Reed. He said there are programs to help address dams built by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but this leaves many dams vulnerable and some states without the ability to address the risks posed by small dams whose failure would likely result in the loss of lives, homes and businesses.

Reed says that according to the 2013 National Inventory of Dams, Rhode Island has 236 dams, 97 of which are classified as high hazard potential, wherein dam failure is probable to cause loss of human life.  The new effort proposed in this legislation makes many of these dams eligible for grant assistance and could provide the state with up to US$700,000 per year to help inspect, repair and rehabilitate high-hazard dams.

“Investing in critical infrastructure like dams is paramount to public safety. In West Virginia, we have 422 dams classified as high hazard potential,” Capito said. “This bill will help facilitate the repair or removal of high-hazard dams before an incident occurs, which could end up saving lives and future costs.”

The act, if passed, would expand the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Dam Safety Program to allow non-federal entities to apply for matching grants for the repair and removal of non-federal, non-agricultural, non-hydroelectric small dams that have been identified by a state dam safety agency as a high hazard potential.

The program is not mandatory, allowing states to determine which, if any, dams they would submit for assistance. The allocation of funds is based on a one-third equal distribution and two-thirds need-based formula, with a 65% – 35% cost share, to ensure the participation of many states.

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Gregory B. Poindexter formerly was an associate editor for HydroWorld.com.

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