Municipalities across New York are facing an estimated $360 million price tag to fix locally-owned dams that are considered a high- or intermediate-hazard to public safety, according to a report issued today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
The report showed that New York has more than 1,000 intermediate- and high-hazard dams, nearly 400 of which are owned or co-owned by local governments. There are a total of 5,352 functioning dams in the state, with 861 of those owned or co-owned by local governments.
"The deadly and destructive consequences of flooding in New York are clear," said DiNapoli. "As with the impact of severe storms, the breach of a large dam could result in the loss of life, devastation of several communities and flooding that spans multiple counties. Even a small dam failure could result in significant economic consequences for residents, municipalities and the state. With increased danger due to aging infrastructure, weather events triggered by global warming and the threat of cyberattacks, effective prioritization of funding and better oversight of critical capital assets is essential."
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) classifies dams according to the level of risk that a failure would pose to life and property. Under DEC's classifications, there are 407 high-hazard dams in New York, more than half of which (213) are owned or co-owned by local governments; and 597 intermediate-hazard dams, of which 30 percent (179) are owned or co-owned by local governments.
In the wake of a 2008 audit of DEC's dam safety program by DiNapoli's office, DEC strengthened its dam safety regulations. The new regulations, which took effect in 2009, include a requirement that most owners of high-hazard and intermediate-hazard dams have an engineering assessment (EA) conducted at least every 10 years and submit the report to DEC.
If the dam has no recent EA or if the information in the EA is incomplete or otherwise insufficient to determine a condition rating, then DEC will either not assign a rating, or assign a condition rating of "unsound" based on lack of information. The ratings range from "unsafe," meaning that it poses a threat of imminent failure, to "no deficiencies noted."
No New York dams are rated "unsafe." However, a majority do not have a condition rating at all, according to DiNapoli's report. Only 37 percent of high-hazard dams owned by local governments have a condition rating and just 23 percent of intermediate-hazard structures have one.
Out of the 79 high-hazard dams owned by local governments with condition ratings, more than half (58 percent) are rated as either unsound or deficiently maintained. Most of the 42 local government-owned intermediate-hazard dams with condition ratings are classified as unsound (81 percent, or 34 dams).
Dams considered "unsound" may have seepage problems, structural stability inadequacies or seriously inadequate spillway capacity. Dams rated as "deficiently maintained" are in need of corrective action, often in the form of increased maintenance, to correct the condition of the dam.
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates the cost for these types of repairs in New York at $360 million. But this estimate could be low given that the recent reconstruction of the Gilboa Dam in Schoharie County, which was completed in 2014, alone cost $138 million. The total estimate excludes the 4,491 other dams that are owned by the federal government, New York state or are privately owned.
In the report, DiNapoli recommended that local officials:
- Ensure emergency action plans and annual certifications are adequate and up to date, and take prompt action to address deficiencies identified by inspections and engineering assessments.
- Include dams in capital asset planning and establish long-term financial forecasts for dam maintenance and, if necessary, rehabilitation.
- Raise awareness about dams that could affect residents. In addition to their own dams, local officials also need to know about other intermediate- and high-hazard dams that could affect their residents and businesses.
To read the report "Dam Infrastructure: Understanding and Managing the Risks," go to: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/pubs/research/dam-infrastucture-2018.pdf
To find local data on dams across New York, go to: http://wwe1.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/dams/dams.cfm
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