U.S. Senators Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) recently introduced the Dam Safety Act of 2012. The bill will extend 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 Senator Akaka. "The collapse of the Ka Loko Dam on Kauai in 2006 tragically caused seven deaths and devastated homes and farmland. The National Dam Safety Program helps ensure that dangerous dam conditions are not overlooked so that we avoid these preventable disasters."
"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," said Senator Boozman.
Rhode Island is the second most densely populated state in the country, and home to 179 "high risk" and "significant risk" dams. Many of these dams are very old - the Slater Mill Dam that ushered in the Industrial Revolution was built in 1793 - and in poor condition. "We need to invest in inspections of our dams to prioritize repairs and ensure public safety," said Senator 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."
"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," said Senator Crapo. "The National Dam Safety Program provides critical resources to ensure that dams across Idaho and the nation are safe for nearby communities and physically sound for future generations."
"Dams provide tremendous benefits to society but they also represent a public safety issue. A dam failure can result in severe loss of life, economic disaster, and extensive environmental damage," said ASCE President Andrew W. Herrmann, P.E. "I commend Senators Akaka and Boozman for their leadership on reauthorizing this important legislation."
According to Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) Executive Director Lori Spragens, "On behalf of our membership, I want to thank Senator Akaka for his steady support and leadership on this small yet vitally important issue. Reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Act will continue programs at the national level to improve dam safety in all states."
According to ASDSO President Zahir "Bo" Bolourchi, "Reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program is tremendously important to public safety. There are more than 84,000 dams in the U.S., and state dam safety programs oversee more than 85 percent of them. The leadership and technical assistance put in place by this program is tremendously important to the state programs involved with the day-to-day safety regulation of these vital, yet potentially dangerous, components of the national infrastructure."
The Dam Safety Act of 2012 will reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program for Fiscal Years 2012 through 2016 at $13.9 million per year including:
$9.2 million per year split among the states, based on the relative number of dams per state, to make improvements in programs identified in the National Dam Safety Program 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.
Only about 11 percent 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. Unfortunately, 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.
The National Dam Safety Program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Under FEMA's leadership, the National Dam Safety Program is dedicated to protecting the lives of American citizens and their property from the risks associated with the development, operation, and maintenance of America's dams.
Senator Akaka is a senior member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees FEMA. Senators Boozman, Whitehouse, and Crapo are members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the National Dam Safety Program.