Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Repair of near-collapsed dam to cost $500 million; U.S. has thousands of aging, high-hazard dams

Construction crews repair the Oroville Dam
(Photo by Calif. Dept. of Water Resources)
"The costs to repair the nation's tallest dam after a nearly catastrophic failure of the spillways will top $500 million, nearly double the original estimate of $275 million," Jonathan Cooper reports for The Associated Press. When the spillways for the 770-foot tall Oroville Dam ruptured in February, nearly 200,000 people were evacuated while the dam was stabilized.

But that $500 million figure only includes repair costs by the main construction contractor, Kiewit Corp. The state will also have to pay for other contractors as well as the emergency responders who helped in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Erin Mellon, a spokesperson for the California Department of Water Resources, said the cost for the emergency responders alone is estimated at $140 million to $160 million.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reimbursed some of the costs for the emergency response, but it's unclear whether it will fund long-term repair work. California state officials say they hope FEMA will pay up to 75 percent of that bill, Cooper reports.

The narrowly-avoided disaster calls attention to the nation's aging dam system. The U.S. has thousands of high-hazard dams, and visual inspections alone can't predict if a dam is in danger of failing. Even small dams can cause major damage when hit by powerful storms. And because of climate change, even more extreme weather is likely on its way. That's prompted calls for more federal involvement in design and operations parameters for dams, Jeremy Jacobs reports for Energy & Environment News. The federal Bureau of Reclamation has a program to do just that, but President Trump's 2018 budget proposal calls for eliminating the program's budget, which ranges from $1.5 million to $3 million.

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