Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and John Boozman (R-AR) introduced the National Dam Safety Act of 2012 on 28 June, in a move to reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) in the US.

First authorized through the Water Resources Development Act of 1996, the NDSP focuses on the safety of the country’s dams by providing vital support for the 50 state dam safety programs. Forty-nine states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have established state dam safety programs; Alabama is the lone exception.

Leaders of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), in partnership with the American Society of Civil Engineers, have been supporting this legislation since its initial authorization in 1996, and in subsequent authorizations in 2002 and 2006. Through its administration of the NDSP, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will continue to lead national efforts to protect the public by preventing dam failures. To this end, FEMA:

· Provides vital grant assistance for the improvement of state dam safety programs,

· Instigates and supports efforts in dam safety research and technology transfer,

· Supports public awareness efforts,

· Acts as a hub of communication between state and federal agencies, and

· Provides training for state dam safety staff.

“Reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program is tremendously important to public safety,” commented Zahir “Bo” Bolourchi, President of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). “There are more than 84,000 dams in the US and state dam safety programs oversee more than 85% of them. The NDSP is invaluable to the state programs involved with the day-to-day safety regulation of these vital, yet potentially dangerous, components of the national infrastructure.”

Since the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued its first national “infrastructure report card” in 1998, ASDSO has worked with ASCE to assess the condition of the country’s dams. The grade assigned to dams since 1998 has remained a consistent ‘D’, seemingly demonstrating a lack of progress in dam safety in the US. The grade is both accurate and somewhat deceptive: Improvements since 1996 can be demonstrated:

· Since 1996, funding and staffing of state regulatory programs has increased slightly.

· Training for state personnel is more readily available.

· There is better coordination between dam safety and emergency officials at all levels of government.

· The number of emergency action plans for potentially deadly (“high-hazard-potential”) dams is increasing.

· The number of dam inspections is increasing.

· There is better state enforcement authority.

But dam safety is a complicated matter:

· Lack of funding for dam upgrades is a serious national problem, especially within the private sector. Operation, maintenance, and rehabilitation of dams can range in cost from the low thousands to millions, and responsibility for these expenses lies with owners, many of whom cannot afford these costs. Although some states offer loan programs, funding assistance, through government or private sources, is minimal at best. In 2009, ASDSO concluded that it would take approximately $16B to rehabilitate the most critical (high-hazard potential) dams that are in need of rehabilitation. In its 2009 Infrastructure Report Card, ASCE cited the lack of funding available to support the repair and upgrade needs of the nation’s dams as one cause of the low grade for dams.

· State regulatory programs are still underfunded and understaffed to keep up with the inspection and enforcement programs necessary to keep all dams safe.

· The great majority of dams in the US are more than 50 years old. While the age of a dam is not necessarily a direct indicator of its condition, it is indirectly an indicator in that old dams were not built to the standards of today. Some older dams are considered in poor condition for this reason alone; others may have been inadequately maintained as well.

· Ownership makes dams a unique part of the national infrastructure. While most infrastructure facilities (roads, bridges, sewer systems, etc.) are owned by public entities, the majority of dams in the US are privately owned. A dam’s owner is solely responsible for the safety and liability of the dam and for financing its upkeep, upgrade and repair.

In order to protect the public and to ensure the continued benefits of dams—including flood protection, drinking water, hydroelectric power, irrigation and recreation—dams require ongoing maintenance, monitoring, frequent safety inspections, and rehabilitation.

The National Dam Safety Program supports all of these actions. ASDSO said it lauds Senators Akaka and Boozman for their recognition of this fact.