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Mon Nov 11, 2019, 08:15 AM

AP - 1,688 Dams Rated As "Poor" Or "Unsatisfactory" In 44 States & PR - That We Know About

This photo provided by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources shows the Spencer Dam near Spencer, Neb., in November 2013, when it was holding back water on the Niobrara River. (Nebraska Department of Natural Resources via AP)

This photo provided by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources shows the Spencer Dam near Spencer, Neb., in March 2019, after the dam failed during a flood. (Nebraska Department of Natural Resources via AP)

A more than two-year investigation by The Associated Press has found scores of dams nationwide in even worse condition, and in equally dangerous locations. They loom over homes, businesses, highways or entire communities that could face life-threatening floods if the dams donít hold. A review of federal data and reports obtained under state open records laws identified 1,688 high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of last year in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The actual number is almost certainly higher: Some states declined to provide condition ratings for their dams, claiming exemptions to public record requests. Others simply havenít rated all their dams due to lack of funding, staffing or authority to do so.

Deaths from dam failures have declined since a series of catastrophic collapses in the 1970s prompted the federal and state governments to step up their safety efforts. Yet about 1,000 dams have failed over the past four decades, killing 34 people, according to Stanford Universityís National Performance of Dams Program. Built for flood control, irrigation, water supply, hydropower, recreation or industrial waste storage, the nationís dams are over a half-century old on average. Some are no longer adequate to handle the intense rainfall and floods of a changing climate. Yet they are being relied upon to protect more and more people as housing developments spring up nearby.


In some states, dams go uninspected because of exemptions in state law. A 2013 Texas law exempts all dams on private property with a capacity of less than 163 million gallons that are rated significant or low hazard and are located outside of city limits in any county with fewer than 350,000 people. As a result, about 45% of its roughly 7,200 dams are exempt from regulation.

Missouri performs safety inspections on only about 650 of its more than 5,000 dams. Thatís because state law exempts all dams that are under 35 feet, used for agricultural purposes or subject to federal regulation. Former Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt attempted to significantly expand the number of dams under state supervision after the mountaintop Taum Sauk Reservoir collapsed in December 2005, injuring a state park superintendentís family. But the legislation failed after some rural landowners expressed concerns. Then the proposal quietly faded away as new officials took over. ďMaybe itís time to take a look at that again and make sure that our dams are safe,Ē said Missouri state Rep. Tim Remole, who now leads the House committee overseeing dam safety.



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