Gillibrand Pushes Senate to Shore Up Nation’s Dams

The Shasta Dam across the Sacramento River in California.

(CN) — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand thinks it’s time to fix some dams.

The New York lawmaker who recently ended a run for president sent a letter Tuesday to the leaders of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, calling for the rehabilitation of nearly 1,700 dams across the country.

“Should any of these dams fail, the result could be catastrophic for the local community and potentially lead to the sudden loss of life and property,” Gillibrand wrote to her committee colleagues, Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and ranking member Tom Carper, D-Del.

“Higher levels of precipitation and flooding projected to occur due to climate change will only add stress and strain to our aging water infrastructure and makes the need to address this problem even more urgent.”

The letter comes in the wake of reporting by the Associated Press, which Gillibrand summarized, that at least 1,680 dams across the country, including 90 in New York, are potentially at risk of failure.

Gillibrand called on the committee to be proactive and address dam safety in the next Water Resources Development Act.

That law provided $445 million worth of grants for high-hazard dams in 2016. Congress hasn’t kept up with the funding, however, failing to grant the allotted $10 million for two years and forking over just $10 million of an approved $25 million this year.

Gillibrand said Congress should also take action to address climate change and shore up the country’s infrastructure for future climate-related weather disasters.

Mike Danylak, a spokesman for Barrasso, emphasized that the chairman has made dam safety a priority in past legislation.

“Chairman Barrasso asked committee members for their priorities for new water resources legislation by early October 2019,” Danylak said in a statement Tuesday. “While Sen. Gillibrand did not include this request in her priorities at that time, the Chairman will consider this additional request. The committee will continue to work to ensure the safety of America’s dams and flood control infrastructure as part of the next Water Resources legislation in 2020.”

Gillibrand notes that the American Society of Engineers has estimated the cost of the dam repairs at $45 billion.

“We should not wait for a catastrophic dam failure or major flooding event to spur us to action,” Gillibrand wrote.

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