ASCE and Congressional Champions Seek Bipartisan Approach to National Dam Safety Program Reauthorization


In 1996, Congress authorized the creation of the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) to support dam safety programs at the state level nationwide.  Since it was first established, the NDSP has become the primary source of federal funding for state dam safety programs, supporting activities such as dam inspection and monitoring, emergency preparedness, and staffing needs.  While the program has historically not been funded at its full authorized level of $13.9 million, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) made dams a priority by appropriating nearly $3.1 billion for dam safety activities, including $215 million for the NDSP.  While this marked a historic investment in dam safety, Congress thus far failed to build on this momentum and ultimately allowed the NDSP’s authorization to lapse on September 30, 2023.  While the program continues to operate under the current continuing resolution funding government operations at FY 2023 levels, as well as funds provided under IIJA, reauthorization of the NDSP is the only way to ensure that the program can continue to grow and develop and have access to annual federal appropriations.  As such, one of ASCE’s top policy priorities in 2023 and 2024 has been the program’s reauthorization.  Along with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), ASCE has worked closely over the past year with Congressional champions to move NDSP reauthorization forward through the legislative process.

Bipartisan Legislation

ASCE and ASDSO have spent much of the past year working with Congressional champions in the House and Senate to advance bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the NDSP.  Last August, Representatives Chuck Edwards (R-NC) and Ann Kuster (D-NH) kicked this process off by introducing H.R. 5104, the National Dam Safety Program Reauthorization Act.  H.R. 5104, which marked the first step in this bipartisan effort, would reauthorize the NDSP through FY 2028.

This effort was followed up by the introduction of S. 3111, the companion effort to reauthorize the NDSP.  In addition to reauthorizing the program for five years, S. 3111, led by Senators Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), would remove the existing limitation on funds states may receive in NDSP State Assistance Grants which currently no more than half of state costs for operating state dam safety programs.  Under the current law, states may only receive up to NDSP State Assistance Grants up to an amount no greater than 50 percent of the cost of operating a state’s dam safety program.  This limitation was initially intended to prevent states from relying solely on federal funds for their state programs, however, additional provisions within the law already require states to make good faith efforts to adequately fund dam safety programs using state revenues.  Removing this provision would allow not only more money to flow to states, but would make it easier for FEMA to distribute the historic funds provided by IIJA without unnecessary funding restrictions.  In addition to reforms to State Assistance Grants, S. 3111 also makes needed reforms to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation (HHPD) Grant Program.  These reforms include the creation of a new definition under the law for “small, disadvantaged communities”, and removing non-federal cost share requirements (currently 35 percent of project cost) for dam rehabilitation projects in these communities, allowing for more communities with high hazard potential dams to have better access to the repair funds that they need.

Finally, in December, Representatives Edwards and Kuster introduced a second bill to complement H.R. 5104 and make the House and Senate efforts to reauthorize the NDSP more reflective of one another.  The NDSP Amendment Act (H.R. 6931) contains the policy changes which were included in S. 3111.  However, unlike the Senate bill, the NDSP Amendment Act caps the amount of money states may receive in state assistance grants at a 4 to 1 margin, meaning states would be able to receive up to four times the amount of funds they invest in their own state dam safety programs.  While this does not remove the provision entirely, it would still allow for historic levels of funding to flow to states to support dam safety programs.

WRDA 2024

It is ASCE’s ultimate aim that reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program will be included in the 2024 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).  Historically, WRDA has served as the legislative vehicle for changes to the NDSP, as was the case with the program’s previous reauthorization which was included in the 2018 WRDA bill.  For over a year, ASCE has been actively engaged with House Members and Senators, as well as the respective authorizing committees, advocating for the need to reauthorize the NDSP and the importance of including it in WRDA 2024.  NDSP reauthorization serves as ASCE’s top WRDA priority for 2024.  The WRDA process in both chambers of Congress is well underway, with both House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) and Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committees having held hearings with federal and nonfederal stakeholders to discuss 2024 priorities.  Additionally, both committees have accepted policy and project requests from their respective members.  ASCE is pleased that several Members in both the House and Senate have submitted NDSP reauthorization as part of their overall policy request, and ASCE will continue to advocate for its inclusion in WRDA as the process moves forward into the Spring.

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