Since 1999, almost 300 dam removals have been recorded nationwide. These dams were removed for a variety of reasons. Many, but not all, were in a state of disrepair. This year, 13 dam removals were financed in part by American Riversâ„¢ through two grant programs funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Summary listing of projects available at: www.americanrivers.org/damsremo
â€œOften the best way to fix a dam is to remove it entirely,â€ said Rebecca Wodder, President of American Riversâ„¢. â€œJust like your own circulatory system, a river without blockages is healthier and safer for the community it flows through.â€
While some dams serve vital purposes, a great many have outlived their usefulness and often do more harm than good. Heavy rains can cause flooding upstream and, if the dam breaches or fails under pressure, catastrophic damage and loss of life can result downstream. Even with normal river levels, small dams can create a deadly recirculating current immediately downstream. Itâ€™s a condition that has caused experts to tag such dams with a macabre nickname: â€œdrowning machines.â€
Dam removal restores a free flowing river, and can enable numerous economic and recreational opportunities. It also helps release dam owners from daunting legal and financial responsibilities. Dam owners are liable for damages resulting from their damâ€™s failure. They can also be sued for injuries or fatalities caused by the mere existence of their dam, such as paddlers or anglers becoming trapped and drowning in a deadly recirculating current downstream.
â€œNot only do many dams pose a threat to life and property, but a dam failure could literally bankrupt its owner,â€ said Wodder. â€œDam owners are increasingly choosing to eliminate this possibility. Common sense says obsolete dams should be removed so our communities can be physically and financially safer and healthier places to live.â€
In fact, thousands of dams in this country have the potential to be killers. According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), there are 10,127 high hazard dams across the United States. By definition, a high hazard dam is one whose failure would pose a threat to human life if it were to fail. Of those roughly ten thousand dams, 1,333 have been classified by state dam safety offices as being structurally deficient.
The tragic events this past summer in Minnesota gave all Americans a frightening look into the deplorable state of our nationâ€™s infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers regularly grades such things. The group gave our bridges a C; dams were given a D.
â€œMillions of Americans live in the shadow of these ticking time bombs and most donâ€™t even know it,â€ said Wodder. â€œThankfully, Congress is currently working on a solution that will help communities that are held hostage by these dangerous and decaying dams.â€
Right now, Senators are considering the Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act of 2007 (S. 2238). Introduced by Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and George Voinovich (R-OH) the bill will direct 200 million dollars to fix or remove hazardous publicly owned dams across the country. Unfortunately, only 4 other Senators have signed on as cosponsors to this common sense legislation.
Meanwhile, the House version of the bill (H.R. 3224) passed in late October, with wide bipartisan support.
Learn more about the deficient dams in your state, www.americanrivers.org/damdange
American Rivers is the only national organization standing up for healthy rivers so our communities can thrive. Through national advocacy, innovative solutions and our growing network of strategic partners, we protect and promote our rivers as valuable community assets that are vital to our health, safety and quality of life. Founded in 1973, American Rivers has more than 65,000 members and online supporters nationwide, with offices in Washington, DC and the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, California and Northwest regions. http://www.AmericanRivers.org