In a situation reminiscent of the famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner by 16th century poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, we find ourselves in the position of the Mariner becalmed in the ocean but dying of thirst. In our case, the Dams sector is surrounded by $2 Trillion in proposed spending without a drop (or dollar) directly targeted for dam maintenance and upgrades. Of the $17 billion proposed in the American Jobs Plan for waterways and ports, some may be used for navigation dams on inland waterways, but most of the 91,000 dams in our country will not be improved.
Given ASCE’s infrastructure report card grade of D for the Dams sector, this lack of funding is hard to understand. Over the last 20 years, the number of high-hazard-potential dams in the U.S. has doubled primarily due to development downstream of dams. As more and more development occurs, this trend is likely to continue. The average age of dams in this country is already 57 years. It’s critical that we invest now to keep them safe so they can continue to provide water supply, recreation, and flood control.
The good news is it isn’t too late. The President’s plan is being considered and debated right now. Letting your representative and senator know you consider dams critical infrastructure and you want them to advocate for funding will send a clear message to Washington: dams should not be forgotten. Whether used for repair, rehabilitation, safety education, or the development of emergency action plans, these badly-needed dollars will help slake the thirst for safety of the Dams sector nationwide.