A Review by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says that funds are needed over the next five years to repair and rehab some of the US’ dams and infrastructure. The report says that to provide safe continuing service, dams require ongoing maintenance, monitoring, frequent safety inspections and rehabilitation. In order to protect public safety, state dam safety programmes must be adequately staffed and funded. The states of Alabama and Delaware still lack dam safety programmes and many others lack the human resources to enforce regulations.

ASCE said that in the past two years more than 520 dam incidents, including 61 dam failures, were reported to the National Perform-ance of Dams Programme, which collects and archives information on dam performance as reported by state and federal regulatory agencies and dam owners. The number of high hazard potential dams whose failure would cause loss of human life is also increasing.

In 1998, states reported 9281 high hazard potential dams, with North Carolina having the highest number (874). In 2001 there are 9921; with the number in North Carolina increasing to 988.

ASCE said that states are currently reporting 2100 dams as being unsafe, with deficiencies that leave them highly susceptible to failure. The number of unsafe dams in North Carolina has increased from 40 in 1998 to 139 in 2001. Many other states have large numbers of unsafe dams including Ohio (450), Texas (403) and Colorado (190). Eleven state agencies do not keep statistics on unsafe dams; therefore the actual number is potentially much higher.

Since the last ASCE Review, US Congress has passed the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Act of 2000, which authorises US$90M over five years to assess and rehabilitate a portion of the 10,000 dams constructed by the US Department of Agriculture. While this law is a positive step, it is neither a comprehensive nor a permanent solution.

According to preliminary results of a study by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, the total investment needed to ensure US dams comply with safety standards, or remove those that are no longer needed, tops US$30B.