Wednesday, December 23, 2015

National Inventory of Dams is the place to go for journalists looking for data on local dams

The National Inventory of Dams (NID) is a great resource for journalists writing about any of the more than 85,000 dams in the U.S., Liz Lucas and Andrew Kreighbaum report for the Society of Environmental Journalists in the Winter 2015/16 edition of SEJournal. "With the 1972 National Dam Inspection Act, Congress required the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to inspect every dam in the U.S. But because of a lack of funding and other issues, the requirement was never fulfilled. Instead, the act led to creation of the NID, which is based on information from inspections completed by both federal and state regulatory agencies."

NID should contain information on: High hazard classification (loss of human life is likely if the dam fails); significant hazard classification (possible loss of human life and likely significant property or environmental destruction if the dam fails); equal or exceed 25 feet in height and exceed 15 acre-feet in storage; and equal or exceed 50 acre-feet storage and exceed six feet in height. The database has been a resource for many stories, including this report from KVUE-TV in Austin:

"There are about 70 fields in NID, including key pieces of information, such as owner name and owner type (private or state-owned), inspection date, height and storage levels, river or stream on which the dam is built, longitude and latitude and year of construction," Lucas and Kreighbaum write. "A list of detailed field definitions is included in the files provided in the NID database. Because the data includes many technical terms, reporters should probably consult and engineer at some point in their reporting to provide perspective."

Also included are the number of dams in each state and what percent of those dams are high hazard, Lucas and Kreighbaum write. "If you want to zero in on individual dams, the NID is a good starting place, but you'll have to seek additional documentation on individual dam hazards and the results of inspections. But the NID can help you figure out which dams to start investigating." The current issue of SEJ is by subscription only. Past issues can be read by clicking here. (Wikipedia map: U.S. dams)

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