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RELEASE: Crumbling Dam And Levee Infrastructure Threatens Public Safety, Economic Stability

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Contact: Katie Peters
Phone: 202.741.6285
Email: kpeters@americanprogress.org

Washington, D.C. — Today a new report from the Center for American Progress reveals that a frightening number of our nation’s dams and levees have been allowed to fall into disrepair, putting thousands of lives and communities at risk. The authors of the report, entitled “Investing in Our Nation’s Critical Dams and Levees,” explain that by increasing federal spending on dams and levees by at least $1 billion, the federal government will not only save lives and protect us from natural disasters, but will also save taxpayers from spending billions of dollars on clean up and restoration efforts.

“It is time that policymakers stop simply hoping that the worst will not occur and finally devote the resources and political will required to ensure the safety and prosperity of the American public,” said Donna Cooper, co-author of the report and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

There are currently more than 84,000 dams and approximately 100,000 total miles of levees in the United States. In addition to helping prevent floods and enabling the movement of freight up and down inland waterways, these structures are also relied upon to provide water for drinking and irrigation, to generate electricity, to help combat forest fires, and to provide recreational opportunities. They are critical components of our national economy and improve our quality of life in underappreciated ways every day.

But federal, state, and local efforts to monitor and repair levees and dams are piecemeal and drastically underfunded. Hundreds of dams across the country whose failure would put lives in danger are years overdue for inspection, while we have almost no information on the condition of the vast majority of American levees.

Communities in every state are at risk due to the presence of high-hazard dams in need of repair. About 14,000 dams across the country can be classified as “high-hazard” dams, meaning a dam failure or operational error could result in the loss of human life. In addition to the report, today CAP also released an analysis identifying the 10 states with the most state-regulated, high-hazard dams in need of repair in 2010.

To bring America’s levees and dams into a state of good repair and ensure that they continue to be drivers of economic growth and not threats to public safety, the federal government will have to take a number of quick and decisive steps. The report details the following recommendations for Congress:

  • Immediately pass a short-term reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program.
  • Establish a National Levee Safety Program based on the National Dam Safety Program model.
  • Increase federal spending on dams and levees by at least $1 billion annually.
  • Require federal and state agencies receiving federal funds to conduct assessments of when dam breaching is the most sensible option.

Read the report:
“Ensuring Public Safety by Investing in Our Nation’s Critical Dams and Levees” by Keith Miller, Kristina Costa, and Donna Cooper

See also:
The 10 States Most Threatened by High-Hazard Deficient Dams by Kristina Costa and Donna Cooper

To speak with a CAP expert on this topic, please contact Katie Peters at 202.741.6285 or kpeters@americanprogress.org.

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