Aging Infrastructure: Dam Safety [Updated March 25, 2008]   [open pdf - 143KB]

"While dams have multiple benefits (balanced against financial and environmental costs), they can also present a risk to public safety and economic infrastructure. This risk stems from two sources: the possibility of a dam failure and the damage it would cause. Although dam failures are infrequent, age, construction deficiencies, inadequate maintenance, and seismic or weather events contribute to the possibility. To reduce the risk, regular inspections are necessary to identify potential problems. Corrective action can then be taken to remedy those deficiencies. Congress is often called upon to fund remedial actions, as a way to prevent the larger catastrophes. The 110th Congress will likely see proposals for improving dam safety and may oversee existing safety programs. […]. The federal agencies with dam safety responsibilities include the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, the Interior, Labor, and State. […]. The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minnesota highlighted the potential for unexpected infrastructure failure. This may result in a review of the safety of other elements of our nation's inventory of critical infrastructure such as dams, levees, tunnels, and bridges -- and a call for additional funding to resolve any deficiencies. Congress has periodically been urged to provide federal support for rehabilitation work at nonfederal dams. Demand for such assistance is likely to increase, but currently no federal policy describes the conditions under which federal funding is appropriate, nor has Congress established criteria for prioritizing funding among nonfederal projects."

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CRS Report for Congress, RL33108
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