Press Release

After Recent Report Reveals Potentially Hazardous At-Risk Dams Throughout New York, Gillibrand Calls On Congress To Help Fix Aging Infrastructure And Prevent Dam Failures

Dec 17, 2019

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, today called on Congress to immediately begin addressing aging dam infrastructure in New York and across the country. This comes following a recent report that found over 1,680 dams in the United States are classified as high-hazard potential dams in poor condition. There are approximately 90 dams near communities throughout New York that are classified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as “unsound.” The failure of a high hazard potential dam could cost human lives and result in significant property loss due to major flooding. Gillibrand today called on Senate leadership to update dam safety programs in New York and across the country, and to increase federal funding for dam rehabilitation projects.

Dams are integral parts of communities across our state, used for everything from drinking water and irrigation, to flood control and fire protection, to recreation and hydropower,” said Senator Gillibrand, member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “However, when a dam is old and in need of rehabilitation and repair, it could breach and possibly cause widespread or serious damage to nearby families, homes, and businesses. That’s why I’m calling on Congress to provide more funding for federal dam safety programs, so that our local communities, dam owners, and state and local governments can make critical improvements to dams. We also need to update federal standards to ensure that dams are resilient and safe. I will always fight to ensure that our water infrastructure is safe and up to date.”

Gillibrand urged leadership on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to immediately address dam infrastructure by updating federal dam safety programs in the next Water Resources Development Act to help make dams more resilient in the face of extreme weather. She also pushed for the Rehabilitation of High-Hazard Potential Dam Grant Program to be fully funded, which would help states, local communities and other dam owners make necessary repairs to aging and deteriorating dams. Although the High-Hazard Potential Dam Grant program was authorized at $40 million, Congress has only provided $10 million for this critical program.

The full text of Gillibrand’s letter may be found here and below.

December 17, 2019

The Honorable John Barrasso
Environment & Public Works Committee
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Tom Carper
Ranking Member
Environment & Public Works Committee
456 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper,

As the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee works to put together a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) for 2020, I am writing to urge you to ensure that the legislation adequately addresses the large number of high-hazard dams that are in poor condition across New York and the United States. 

 Recent reporting by the Associated Press revealed that at least 1,680 dams across the country are potentially at risk of failure and in need of rehabilitation.  This includes 90 dams in New York State that have been rated “unsound” by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.  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.  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.   

Our committee has an opportunity to proactively address dam safety in the next Water Resources Development Act.  This includes ensuring that the regulations governing our federal dam safety programs get assistance where it is needed.  We should also work to ensure that federal standards are in place to address climate change and make dams more resilient to extreme weather and other climate-related impacts.  We should not wait for a catastrophic dam failure or major flooding event to spur us to action.

Additionally, I hope to work with you to push for Congress and the Administration to fully fund the Rehabilitation of High-Hazard Potential Dam Grant Program that was created in the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, nearly $45 billion is needed to repair aging high-hazard potential dams across the United States.  We must ensure that dam owners, which include states, local governments, public utilities and private entities, have access to the funding provided by this program to make critical improvements to the dams that they own.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent public safety issue.  I look forward to working  with you on next year’s WRDA bill as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.