Thousands Face Life-Threatening Floods from Aging Dams

This photo provided by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources shows the Spencer Dam near Spencer, Neb., in March 2019, after the dam failed during a flood. (Nebraska Department of Natural Resources via AP)

America’s dams, most of which were built more than half a century ago, are in a state of decay that is endangering thousands of people who live downstream.

An investigation by The Associated Press, based on federal data and records obtained separately over a more than two-year period from virtually every state, identified at least 1,600 high-hazard dams that are rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition. The potential danger to downstream communities is compounded by climate change, which is expected to cause more frequent and severe storms that could overwhelm deficient dams and out-of-date spillways.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is beginning to disperse $10 million in grants for high hazard dams that have failed safety standards or pose an unacceptable risk to the public. The grants announced this fall for 26 states will fund preliminary steps such as risk assessments and engineering designs, but not the actual repairs. The amount represents a drop in the bucket of the estimated $70 billion price tag to repair and modernize the nation’s aging dams

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