Lori C. Spragens
Executive Director

We’ve seen it before; a renewed interest in infrastructure at the beginning of a new federal administration and new Congress. Is this time different? It may well be. Several events and advocates have aligned that could enable a much-needed federal focus and funds on dam safety.

On March 31, President Biden released an ambitious infrastructure plan, the "American Jobs Plan,” that included $2 trillion worth of investments in infrastructure improvements and related goals. Embedded within a $50 billion subset of the plan -- to “make the U.S. infrastructure more resilient” -- is a general goal to invest in dam safety. Until more detail is released about this plan, it is unclear what this effort would look like in reality. In another subsection of the plan, there is an indication that an increase in the federal investment in hydropower projects will support the goal of modernizing power generation and delivering clean electricity.

This high-level focus on dams and many other elements of the U.S. infrastructure comes on the heels of the American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) Report Card for America’s Infrastructure released in March. Dams received a grade of D. We were proud to work with ASCE on this section of the Report Card – kudos to our president, Bill McCormick, and members Greg Paxson and Del Shannon for participating in the Solutions Summit on March 3.

With a new Congress comes more interest in injecting the issue with innovative problem solving and federal funding. It’s encouraging to report that, early in this Congressional cycle, several dozen House members signed onto a letter, addressed to President Biden, supporting strong leadership to improve dam safety and delivery of the needed resources that are produced by dams. Legislation has been introduced to bring the federal government back into the business of providing PMP data based on current science. The PRECIP Act, if passed, will give engineers and dam owners modern tools for better decision-making and budgeting.

Our coalition of partners is growing. Recently a group of organizations, with very different missions, came together to state that they see an overwhelming need to find common-sense solutions to dam safety and industry problems and pledge to work with the Administration and Congress to make change happen. [https://woods.stanford.edu/news/new-agreement-us-hydropower-and-river-conservation]. For many years ASDSO has advocated for laws, policies and government programs to improve the safety of dams and the public living below them, and we look forward to providing our expertise, experience and encouragement to this endeavor, and bringing more stakeholders and voices to the table.

Two high-profile New York Times stories were published in the last few weeks focusing on infrastructure – ASDSO is cited as a source or quoted on the issue of dam safety in America.
New York Times (April 2)
New York Times (February 21)

 

What’s Next for ASDSO

To provide our view of the national issues and potential solutions in a new and detailed format, the ASDSO website now offers a Roadmap to Success.  We encourage our members to read this and think about ways that you can also provide support. The first step is simply to contact your lawmakers, both federal and state, and talk to them about the importance of strong dam safety programs.

ASDSO, alongside our long-time ally ASCE, will be watching the implementation of President Biden’s plan and related Congressional legislation. There may be some movement in the House and Senate to introduce their versions of an infrastructure bill in the coming months. We plan on beginning our efforts to educate lawmakers about what we think could be the role of federal leadership in dam safety.

Watch for more details on the website and in the member e-news about ASDSO’s legislative strategy for the 117th Congress.