Report: $157B Needed for US Dam Repairs

FRIDAY, APRIL 21, 2023

According to a recent report from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, the estimated cost to rehabilitate the United States' non-federal dams is $157.5 billion. The cost to rehabilitate just the most critical dams is estimated at $34.1 billion.

“To ensure the safety of our nation’s dams, we must maintain high funding levels to address the thousands of dams needing rehabilitation,” said ASDSO’s task force member Sharon Tapia.

“We cannot return to previous funding levels, typically less than 1% annually of the investment made in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act.”

Report Findings

ASDSO reports that the estimates were based on actual dam rehabilitation costs for non-federal dam repairs over the past 10 years and estimated costs for known upcoming projects.

This included nationwide cost data for more than 500 projects, including dam removals. Project costs ran from $10,000 for small projects to more than $500 million for large complex projects.

Rehabilitation, ASDSO explains, becomes necessary as dams age, technical standards and techniques improve, and downstream populations and land use change. However, the cost of rehabilitation can be high, and costs are reportedly rising significantly.

The association attributes this increase to a combination of factors, including escalated costs for construction materials and labor, as well as the increased breadth of current engineering studies and analyses. 

Additionally, the overall number of dams needing rehabilitation has increased due to the identification of deficiencies outpacing the completion of rehabilitation projects. Funding and permitting constraints contribute significantly to the slower rate of completion.

“Two years ago, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act was passed and provided once-in-a-generation funding for dam rehabilitation; however, ASDSO’s report illustrates the urgent need for ongoing investment,” wrote the association. “The Act, which provided more than $4 billion towards dam rehabilitation, is only a step towards adequately addressing the nation’s backlog of dam rehabilitation projects.”

The report outlines that there are more than 88,600 non-federal dams in the United States. The number of high-hazard potential dams, where loss of life is probable should the dams fail, has increased almost 20% over the past 10 years to more than 16,000.

States reportedly regulate 70% of dams, while federal agencies regulate or own 5% of U.S. dams and the rest are unregulated. Approximately 65% of dams are privately owned, and about 31% are owned by federal, tribal, state or local governments. The rest are owned by quasi-governmental utilities or unknown ownership.

However, many dam owners cannot afford the high cost of dam rehabilitation and need grants and loans to rehabilitate their dams to reduce the risk of dam failures or serious incidents. The five states with the highest number of deficient dams, according to the study, are:

  • Texas, 7,255;
  • Kansas, 6,417;
  • Mississippi, 6,059;
  • Georgia, 5,498; and
  • Missouri, 5,335.

The full report, “The Cost of Rehabilitating Dams in the U.S.: A Methodology and Estimate,” can be found here.


Tagged categories: Funding; Government; Health and safety; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; Maintenance programs; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Quality Control; Rehabilitation/Repair; Safety; Water/Wastewater

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