If it is enacted, the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2004 (HR 5190) will also call for:

• the establishment of a programme within the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for rehabilitation, repair work and dam removal;

• the enactment of a public fund to award grants to publicly-owned deficient dams.

The new bill was launched by Congresswoman Sue Kelly of New York, who said the legislation would protect the services that dams provided, as well as the local communities they served.

Kelly was immediately applauded by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), both of which are members of the Dam Safety Coalition, an organisation formed this year specifically to warn Congress about the urgency of rehabilitating the country’s ageing dams.

‘Dams provide tremendous benefits to society but they also represent a public safety issue,’ said Pat Galloway, president of ASCE. ‘A dam failure can result in severe loss of life, economic disaster and extensive environmental damage. I commend Representative Kelly for working with the coalition to craft this crucial legislation.’

In 2003, ASCE issued a stark warning that the condition of many dams had deteriorated in the space of only two years, while state dam safety programmes estimate that in excess of 3000 US dams are unsafe or deficient and could potentially fail during extreme flooding events or earthquakes.

The introduction of the new legislation comes a year after the publication of ASDSO’s comprehensive report; The Cost of Rehabilitating Our Nation’s Dams: A Methodology, Estimate and Proposed Funding Mechanisms. A nine-member task committee spent two years carrying out a peer-reviewed investigation looking at the number of state-regulated dams; the size of dams; the costs of deferred maintenance; the cost of engineering evaluation and design; the cost of rehabilitation and the costs of increasing storage capacity or structural upgrades.

The study put the cost of upgrading or repairing all non-federal dams in the US at over US$36B, with as much as US$10.1B of this total needed for the highest risk dams, which would cause human fatalities in the event of failure.

‘The ASDSO applauds Congresswoman Kelly for her leadership in introducing this necessary legislation that invests in our nation’s critical infrastructure and will undoubtedly help prevent tragic dam failures. [We] call upon the other members of Congress and the Governors to recognise the growing number of unsafe dams and support this bill,’ said ASDSO president Steve Verigin.