Maui News

Senators Introduce Bipartisan Dam Safety Bill

July 2, 2012, 12:58 PM HST
* Updated July 2, 1:01 PM
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2006 Ka Loko downstream damage, file photo courtesy County of Kauai.

By Wendy Osher

US Senator Daniel Akaka joined colleagues recently in introducing the Dam Safety Act of 2012.

The bill extends funding authorization for the National Dam Safety Program, which provides grants to improve state dam safety programs through training, technical assistance, inspection, and research.

“The importance of properly maintaining aging dams across the country cannot be overstated,” said Sen. Akaka, who recalled the Ka Loko Dam collapse in 2006 that resulted in the death of seven people, as it washed through both homes and farmland.

“ The National Dam Safety Program helps ensure that dangerous dam conditions are not overlooked so that we avoid these preventable disasters,” said Sen. Akaka.

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Fellow Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas who joined in introducing the measure said, “This program is critical to protecting the integrity of our nation’s dams. Providing resources for states to inspect and improve these important structures helps protect public safety.”

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island spoke of the deteriorated condition and age of the state’s dams noting the 179 dams that are classified in the state as “high risk” or “significant risk.”

“We need to invest in inspections of our dams to prioritize repairs and ensure public safety,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “Rhode Island relies on its partnership with the FEMA Dam Safety Program and I am proud to sponsor the reauthorization of this program, to see that this partnership continues,” he said.

Also joining in introducing the bill was Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo who said, “Idaho is home to many dams that not only offer our citizens clean, reliable hydropower and protection from floods, but also create recreational opportunities for the public and habitat for wildlife.”

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There are more than 84,000 dams in the US, and state dam safety programs oversee more than 85% of them.

The Dam Safety Act of 2012 reauthorizes the National Dam Safety Program for Fiscal Years 2012 through 2016 at $13.9 million per year including:

  • $9.2 million per year split based on the relative number of dams per state, to make improvements in programs identified in the act;
  • $1.45 million per year in research funds to identify more effective techniques to assess, construct, and monitor dams;
  • $1 million per year for a nationwide public awareness and outreach program;
  • $750,000 per year in training assistance to state engineers; and
  • $500,000 per year for the national inventory of Dams.

Officials say that only about 11% of the Nation’s 85,000 dams are owned, operated, or regulated by the federal government.  State governments are responsible for ensuring the safety of most dams.

According to bill sponsors, many state programs are underfunded and understaffed. This legislation recognizes that the federal government plays a vital role in maintaining and repairing dams wherever they may be located.

***Supporting information courtesy US Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

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