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State dam officials estimate $50 billion repair need

LEXINGTON, KY—The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) estimated that the cost of rehabilitating the nation’s non-federal dams is $50 billion, including $16 billion for high-hazard-potential dams (those whose failure would likely cause loss of human life). The group recommended a federal program to fund rehabilitation of dams that will encourage state parallel funding programs, provide for cost sharing, and stretch the funding pool to maximize the number of dams that will be rehabilitated.

Of the $16 billion needed for high-hazard dams, roughly $8.7 billion is needed to repair publicly owned dams with the remaining $7.3 billion needed for privately owned dams. Further, to eliminate the backlog of 1,819 deficient high-hazard-potential dams during the next 10 years, the number of high-hazard-potential dams repaired will need to be increased by an additional 270 dams per year above the number currently being repaired, at an annual cost of $850 million. ASDSO estimates that, in 2007, about $700 million was spent collectively to rehabilitate about 341 dams (according to state data on dam rehabilitations completed during that year).

The latest data from the National Inventory of Dams (NID), maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, shows that the number of deficient dams in the nation is increasing—up by 36 percent in the last five years.

ASDSO reported that state dam safety officials are preparing for a potential influx of needed funds as state and federal lawmakers focus on infrastructure. Many states are compiling lists of "shovel-ready" dam rehab projects—those where construction could begin within two to 24 months. ASDSO is aware of 272 projects in 21 states that meet this definition. According to the association, the funding need for these projects is almost $382 million.