Your recent editorial on deficient small dams was a welcomed point about a growing concern that warrants national attention (ENR 7/26 p. 56). The challenges faced by local governments around the country are growing in size and scope along with the potential forand eventual impacts of dam failure.
We are collectively faced with funding shortages, and yet, the facts that increase the likelihood of dam failures and the costs of these disasters continue to grow. Where once low-head dams were built to protect agricultural activities and low-density land uses, they are now often the only protection for high-density residential development and popular recreational facilities. We have developed relentlessly in the shadows of these structures despite the fact that they are at the end of the functional life-cycle. Compounding the danger is that most of these structures were not designed to the standards in use today.
In Maricopa County, Ariz., alone, 15 flood control dams require rehabilitation due to increasing populations around the dams, as well as other dam safety issues. Maricopa County estimates the cost of rehabilitation of these dams to be $230 million. Given we are the second fastest growing county in the nation and home of the fifth largest city, there is much at stake. We are representative of the growing national crisis.
While there is some effort to address the issue, it is not enough. The national watershed rehabilitation program has just begun and is facing severe cuts in funding when compared to the authorized amounts. This program does not address the needs at all dams. Several states, including Arizona, have funding mechanisms for repairs but the funds are depleted and are not being replaced.
Considering the growing level of impact, how much longer can we afford to ignore this issue? Will it take a disaster like West Virginias Silver Bridge failure before we realize a comprehensive and fully funded program capable of addressing it? It has become incumbent upon public works officials across the country to build awareness of this issue.
Aging Dams Need Attention
September 13, 2004