On April 14, 2023, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) announced the release of a new report detailing the current cost of repairing and rehabilitating the nation’s non-federal dams. According to the report titled The Cost of Rehabilitating Dams in the U.S.: A Methodology and Estimate shows that the current cost of rehabilitating all non-federal dams in the United States is an estimated $157.5 billion, more than double ASDSO’s estimate form 2022. The study also determined that the cost of rehabilitating non-federal high hazard potential dams is $34.1 billion, a $10 billion increase from 2022.
ASDSO was able to determine such a dramatic increase in cost using updated methodologies for estimating costs that accounted for the availability of more dam specific information, such as Condition Assessment ratings and the ages of dams. Additionally, ASDSO was able to refine its data by assessing various height categories for dams and updating project costs that account for increased engineering costs and costs for construction materials and labor. This allowed for more detailed analysis of more than 500 dam rehabilitation projects with cost ranges between $10,000 and $500 million.
The report’s findings show that investment in dam safety and rehabilitation is needed at all levels of government. Without such investments and available funding streams, ASDSO says it will be increasingly difficult for dam owners to finance costly dam rehabilitation projects. The report also recommends increasing statutory authorities and investments to support state dam safety programs charged with overseeing more than two thirds of the nation’s dams, including those that pose the greatest hazard potential. Programs like the National Dam Safety Program and the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Grant Program provide funding to state state dam safety programs to support staffing and training needs, to conduct inspection and monitoring activities, and to support needed repairs to high hazard dams which would result in the loss of life in the event of a dam failure. ASCE strongly supports reauthorization of the National Dam Safety Program, whose authority is set to lapse on September 30th of this year and increasing funding for both the National Dam Safety Program and the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Grant Program.
In 2021, ASCE’s Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s dams a grade of “D”. To address the challenges facing dams and to increase the overall grade for dams, ASCE recommends fully funding the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Grant Program, increasing state funding for state dam safety programs, and ensuring state and federal agencies can provide adequate data on dams to assist policy makers in making timely funding decisions and promote greater public awareness. The findings in ASDSO’s report are likely to have a significant impact on ASCE’s next report card and will help to inform assessment of the nation’s dams as well as ASCE’s future recommendations for improving the nation’s dams. We look forward to working with ASDSO on improving dam safety, and determining the best path forward for raising the grade for the nation’s dams.