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Study: Dam Removal Less Costly than Repair

Friday, June 1, 2018

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A new study published by researchers at Portland State University, in Oregon, supports the contention that removing dams as they age could save the United States billions of dollars in comparison with attempting to repair the structures.

Banning Dam
Churnice, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As America's dams age, research shows that removing, rather than replacing, them could be most cost-effective.

The research, published in River Research and Applications this spring and funded in part by the National Science Foundation, looks at trends in dam removal and the number of dams classified as “high-hazard.”

Lead author Zbigniew Grabowski, a Ph.D. candidate at the university, says there’s a lack of solid data and tracking of dam removal in the country, and that more accurate records would make it easier to make the proper decisions regarding aging dams.

$20 Billion in Savings

In general, Grabowski says, removing dams as they reach high-hazard status tends to be less expensive than attempting to maintain the structures: His high-end estimate for removing such dams between now and 2050 is about $25 billion, in comparison with $45 billion estimated to be necessary to repair all of the nation’s high-hazard dams, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

He notes, though, that factors besides straight cost should be considered when a dam is up for possible removal. The ecological impacts and effect on the communities around the dams should be taken into account as well, the study says, and dam policy officials should take a multidisciplinary approach to their decision-making.

Dam safety and repair has been in the news in recent years after the near-catastrophic failure at California’s Oroville Dam in February 2017. Residents near Lake Tahoma Dam, in western North Carolina, were forced to evacuate earlier this week after flooding rains caused a landslide that threatened to topple the structure.

   

Tagged categories: concrete; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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