National Dam Safety Awareness Day: The Power of Dams

Tina McMartin

Freese and Nichols joins several national organizations today to commemorate National Dam Safety Awareness Day.

There are more than 90,000 dams across the United States, many of which are vital to the nation’s infrastructure by providing drinking water, holding back flood waters, storing water to irrigate crops, providing recreation opportunities, and controlling rivers for navigable transportation. In addition, dams provide nearly half of the nation’s clean, renewable electricity through hydropower generation.

Yet dams can pose a risk to communities if not designed, operated and maintained properly. Dam failure can threaten lives and result in devastating damage. Many dams in the United States are aging and require rehabilitation to meet current dam safety requirements. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s dams a grade of “D” and states that substantial investment would be required to bring our aging infrastructure into compliance with current safety standards. 

National Dam Safety Awareness Day commemorates the 1889 failure of South Fork Dam near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, that claimed more than 2,200 lives and led to the public recognizing the importance of dam safety. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials calls May 31 a day for “remembering the lessons learned from past dam failures, pushing for strong dam safety programs, investing in America’s critical infrastructure and rededicating ourselves to the effective public-private partnerships that work to keep America’s dams safe, operational and resilient.” ASDSO urges individuals and communities to understand the benefits and risks associated with dams.

The scare in North Carolina earlier this week was a vivid reminder: thousands of residents near Lake Tahoma dam were ordered to evacuate for a short time until engineers declared the dam safe after storm Alberto caused flooding and mudslides. 

Help us spread awareness of the benefits and risks associated with dams.