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Investment is needed to rehabilitate deficient dams and to improve the efficacy of policies and regulatory programs that oversee dam safety programs. Upgrade or rehabilitation is necessary due to deterioration, changing technical standards, and improved techniques, as well as better understanding of the area’s precipitation conditions, increases in downstream populations, and changing land use. When a dam’s hazard classification is changed to reflect an increased hazard potential, the dam may need to be upgraded to meet an increased need for safety. Many dam owners, especially private dam owners, find it difficult to finance rehabilitation projects.

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that the combined total cost to rehabilitate the nation’s non-federal and federal dams exceeds $64 billion. To rehabilitate just those dams categorized as most critical, or high-hazard, would cost the nation nearly $22 billion, a cost that continues to rise as maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation are delayed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that more than $25 billion will be required to address dam deficiencies for Corps-owned dams. At current investment rates, these repairs would take over 50 years to complete. The Bureau of Reclamation has identified approximately 20 of its high- and significant-hazard potential dams as in need of repair or upgrade. The cost of those actions is estimated at $2 billion over the next 15 years.

The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act signed into law in 2016 authorized a national dam rehabilitation and repair program, which would help fund the repair, removal, or rehabilitation of the nation’s non-federal, high-hazard potential dams. When fully appropriated the provision has the potential to help to repair some of the highest priority dam safety rehabilitation projects in the country. Until this program is funded a lack of financial resources will continue to be a reason dam owners are unable to implement needed repairs and upgrades.

Nearly half of all states have a grant or low-interest revolving loan program to assist dam owners with repairs. This local commitment of funds can help to make the potential federal grants go even further.

Overall, state dam safety program staffing has increased over the past several years. In 2015 state programs spent over $49 million on their regulatory programs, a 10% increase from just four years ago. The federal National Dam Safety Program was reauthorized by the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) in 2014 but has not seen a full appropriation at authorized levels.

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