Scores of US dams found in poor condition, endangering thousands of people: analysis

Scores of US dams found in poor condition, endangering thousands of people: analysis
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Scores of dams in the U.S. are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal and state data.

The AP found in its two-year investigation that 1,688 dams were classified as high-hazard, meaning their failure could result in people’s deaths, and that thousands of people are at risk.  

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The AP examined data on dams in 44 states and Puerto Rico, noting that the other states cited exemptions from public records requests or said they did not have the ability or authority to assess dams. It noted that Georgia has the highest number of high-hazard dams at more than 200.

According to the AP, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimated it would cost more than $70 billion to bring the dams up to acceptable levels.

Dams can be rated unsatisfactory, poor, fair or satisfactory, but the meaning of these designations varies state to state, the AP noted, adding that the conditions of the dams may be worsened by a variety of factors including leaks, erosion, animal holes, tree growth and small spillways not able to handle heavy flood from rainfall.

More extreme rainfall due to climate change may also overwhelm dams that have not been modernized, the AP noted.

Overall, the number of deaths from dam failures has decreased since the 1970s, when state governments improved their oversight, the AP reported. It also cited Stanford University research that showed  about 1,000 dams have collapsed in the past 40 years, resulting in 34 deaths. The average age of dams across the country is 50 years old, the AP reported.

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