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DHS warns of aging and failing dam and lock infrastructure

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a report warning of the safety, economic, and transportation impact if the U.S. lock and dam infrastructure continues to degrade over time. According to DHS, much of the infrastructure is already beyond their expected lifespan.

“The Water and Wastewater Systems Sector critically depends on dams for all steps of potable water production, including intake, distribution, and treatment. In addition, the Water and Wastewater Systems Sector assets depend on electric power provided by dams.
As of 2013, hydroelectric power accounts for nearly 7 percent of electricity generated in the United States, and a few states in the Northwest, including California, Oregon, and Washington, get more than 50 percent of their electricity from hydroelectric sources.
The Transportation Systems Sector relies on dams and navigation locks for transporting goods and freight on inland waterways. Typically, dams on navigable waterways have navigation locks close by to allow passage around the dam. Dam failures could result in the extended closure of critical locks, requiring that goods be transported via more expensive routes, such as railways and commercial vehicles. An extended closure of some locks would result in insufficient rail and commercial vehicle capacity to transport some goods.”

Key Findings

  • Fifty-four percent of Inland Marine Transportation System (IMTS) structures are more than 50 years old; 36 percent are more than 70 years old.
  • Mechanical breakdowns resulting in lock closures steadily increased from 2000 to 2010.
  • The Inland Waterways Trust Fund (IWTF) is an important funding source for lock construction and rehabilitation, but the barge fuel tax that funds the IWTF has not increased since 1995. This tax would need to increase by more than 50 percent to have the same purchasing power today.
  • Dam projects are expensive, and funds are limited. As a result, priority projects are often delayed, which leads to more unscheduled lock closures.
  • States, localities, and private entities own 82 percent of all high hazard potential dams. The Federal Government owns 4 percent and public utilities own 2 percent of the dams listed on the U.S. National Inventory of Dams.
  • States have inspection and regulatory authority over most dams. However, the Dam Safety Act expired in 2011, limiting federal funds available to support state dam safety programs.
  • Dam safety incidents can occur at any point during a dam’s lifetime, but approximately 31 percent of dam safety incidents occur during construction or within the first 5 years of operation.

Full report

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