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NY Comptroller: High-Risk Dams Need Funding

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

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A new report issued by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli estimates that it would take $360 million to repair all of the high- and intermediate-hazard dams in the state, though those comprise a relatively small portion of the state’s overall dam inventory.

Dam Infrastructure: Understanding and Managing the Risks looks at dams of all sizes throughout the state, whether private or government-owned, as awareness of the condition of dams nationwide continues to rise in the wake of last year’s near-catastrophe at California’s Oroville Dam. While few of the dams accounted for in New York are of the scale of Oroville, more than 1,000—or about 20 percent—of the state’s dams are considered to be high- or intermediate-hazard, posing considerable risk to the public if they fail.

Gilboa Dam
Austin512, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

New York's Gilboa Dam, pictured here before its recent reconstruction, cost $138 million to rebuild.

Local governments, the report says, are more likely to own high- and intermediate-hazard dams than private owners are, with 46 percent of government-owned dams fitting the bill, while only about 13 percent of privately owned structures do.

'Deficiently Maintained,' 'Unsound'

While the majority of local government-owned dams don’t have a condition rating associated with them presently, those that do are more likely than not to be deemed “deficiently maintained” if not “unsound.” While none have been assigned a rating of “unsafe,” the state notes, 63 percent of the state’s local government-owned high-hazard dams aren’t rated at all in terms of condition, and 77 percent of its intermediate-hazard dams aren’t.

In total, 29 local government-owned dams in the state are considered to be both high-hazard and unsound.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation oversees the inspection and rating of dams in New York. After a 2008 audit, the comptroller says in his report, the DEC upped its efforts to keep tabs on dam conditions, requiring engineering assessments for high- and intermediate-risk dams every 10 years at minimum. A rating may not be assigned even when an EA is performed, though, if the assessment doesn’t provide enough information to reliably issue one.

The comptroller cites the Association of State Dam Safety Officials in estimating that repairs to all of the government-owned high- and intermediate-hazard dams in the state would come to $360 million; the comptroller questions, though, whether that number is high enough, noting that a recent reconstruction project on the 182-foot-high Gilboa Dam alone ran the New York City Department of Environmental Protection $138 million.


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

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