Senate Environment & Public Works Committee Markup Includes Proposed Changes to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation Program

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In a markup this week, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee unanimously passed their bipartisan Water Resources Development Act legislation, S. 3591 entitled America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2020, as well their Drinking Water Act of 2020, S. 3590.  The substitute amendment to the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 included proposed changes to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation program (Section 1105), which was championed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and strongly supported by ASCE, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), and the Association of Floodplain Managers (ASFPM). These proposed changes better define technical terms and are designed to help the program, which was implemented for the first-time last year by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), run more smoothly in the future. As current written, the programs has run into issues with the clarity of eligibility requirements, as well as technical definitions.

ASCE has been a long-time advocate for the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation program, which was enacted in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 and provides federal grant assistance for the rehabilitation, repair, or removal of non-federal high hazard potential dams. High hazard potential dams are those whose failure is anticipated to cause a loss of life. ASDSO estimates it will cost $20.42 billion to bring our nation’s non-federal high hazard potential dams into a state of good repair; that’s an increase from $18.71 billion in 2016. ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card gave our nation’s dams a grade of “D” and recommends fully funding this program as a way to raise the grade.

In the past two years, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), as well as Sen. Reed (D-RI), led letters to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees requesting full funding for the program; this is also the same request made by the Society in our appropriations request letters this year.

ASCE thanks the Committee for its inclusion of these proposed changes to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation program in the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020. The bill now awaits a full vote in the Senate. You can read a comprehensive summary of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 and the Drinking Water Infrastructure Act of 2020 here, as well as the letter ASCE sent to the EPW Committee here. ASCE will continue to work with House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staff to ensure that corrections to the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation program is also included in the House WRDA bill when introduced.

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