U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling on FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to work with state dam safety agencies as FEMA implements the $800 million included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for dam safety. Gillibrand was joined in her push by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Gary Peters (D-MI).
“The scale of our nation’s dam safety challenge is daunting,” said Senator Gillibrand. “More than $20 billion is needed for critical repairs to dams that are likely to cost human lives if they fail, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. If we are going to succeed in meeting this challenge, we need a carefully developed Federal-State-local-private partnership. The $800 million investment in the National Dam Safety Program provides a real opportunity to build this partnership on a solid foundation and create a safer future for New York.”
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
February 28, 2022
The Honorable Deanne Criswell
500 C Street, Southwest
Washington, DC 20472
Dear Administrator Criswell,
We write to express our priorities for implementation of the $800 million provided for the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) in the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. We also note our support for the NDSP recommendations set forth in the attached letter from a coalition including the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
The scale of our nation’s dam safety challenge is daunting. More than $20 billion is needed for critical repairs to dams that are likely to cost human lives if they fail, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. If we are going to succeed in meeting this challenge, we need a carefully developed Federal-State-local-private partnership. The $800 million investment in the NDSP provides a real opportunity to build this partnership on a solid foundation, as set forth in the following steps:
- Fundamentally, we urge FEMA to work closely with state dam safety offices to implement the NDSP, including development of a new strategic plan.
- We strongly encourage FEMA to streamline the application and management processes for the High-Hazard Potential Dam (HHPD) Rehabilitation Grant Program to be more in line with other FEMA grant programs and those in other agencies such as the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Funds. Many States have underfunded dam safety programs, and we want to ensure that States can conserve their staff time to focus on better assessing and identifying dam safety risks and other critical steps for improving their dam safety programs.
- We recommend that FEMA provide the risk-based prioritizing tool to the States for project ranking purposes by States under the HHPD Program, as it does for other FEMA grant programs like Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. If States develop their own rankings of highest risk dams, it could help develop needed State funding support for repairing those dams. Moreover, because dams already must be ranked for assistance based on risk, we believe that requiring a benefit-cost analysis could be redundant while adding significant application costs and burdens on damowners for little corresponding benefit.
- We also recommend that FEMA relax its requirement that, in order to receive assistance under the HHPD Program, a dam’s hazard classification population at risk threshold must be equal to or higher than 100 people (and in some cases over 1000 people). If a dam has been identified as high-hazard potential by a State regulator, meaning lives could be lost should it fail, Federal assistance may be appropriate even if the lives at risk are fewer than 100. This is especially the case because many owners of smaller, rural dams cannot afford to pay for even urgently needed repairs, and Federal and State grant assistance may be the only option to repair these dams to save lives. By contrast, the owners of many larger dams, particularly in urban areas, may be able to afford dam safety repairs, particularly with assistance from some State and Federal grants and loan programs such as those available under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA).
- We especially believe FEMA should prioritize assistance for smaller but highly dangerous dams where they are located in lower-income areas. We support prioritizing disadvantaged communities and have included a provision in the most recent “Twenty-First Century Dams Act” legislation that would waive the 35% cost-share under the HHPD Program for smaller, disadvantaged communities.
- Finally, we urge FEMA to keep applications for the HHPD Program open for longer than the five to seven weeks that have recently been provided. By comparison, other FEMA programs such as BRIC have an application window of several months.
We appreciate your commitment to ensuring dam safety nationwide. Thank you for considering our comments, and we look forward to working with you to ensure the NDSP’s successful implementation.