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Monday, July 28, 2014

Watershed rehabilitation funding to repair dams in 26 state

by Traci Eatherton, WLJ Managing Editor

USDA recently announced plans to repair and rehabilitate 150 dams in 26 states. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement, sharing that $262 million will be invested in rehabilitation.

In addition, 500 dam sites will also be assessed for safety through Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Watershed Rehabilitation Program. The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250,000 people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.

But missing from the list was any sign of repair to California dams, despite drought conditions and much needed dam repairs. According to experts in the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the Anderson Reservoir is not seismically safe, and a 6.6-magnitude earthquake could crumble it, sending 29 billion gallons of water downstream.

The largest funding went to Arizona, for the Williams-Chandler area, with financial assistance at $34,000,000 and $521,100 for technical assistance.

Despite California missing from the list, the investment is encouraging.

“This investment will protect people and property from floods, help keep our water clean, and ensure that critical structures continue to provide benefits for future generations,” NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. “Families, businesses and our agriculture economy

depend on responsible management of dams and watersheds, and we are continuing to provide that support to these communities.”

A number of the projects to be funded are in Oklahoma and Weller noted that the state had the first full watershed plan and structure completed by USDA on private lands in the 1940s. The 2014 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Obama earlier this year, increased the typical annual investment in watershed rehabilitation by almost 21 fold, recognizing the critical role of these structures in flood management, water supply, and agricultural productivity. In mid-July the president discussed the importance of infrastructure to job creation and commerce, noting that “Funding infrastructure projects helps our families, it fuels our economy, and it better positions America for the future.”

From the 1940s through the 1970s, local communities using NRCS assistance constructed more than 11,800 dams in 47 states. These watershed management projects provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, and improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.

Weller said that funding provided through the July 18 announcement will provide rehabilitation assistance for 150 dams in 26 states. Funds will be used for planning, design or construction. Also, 500 dam sites will be assessed for safety through NRCS’ Watershed Rehabilitation Program. For a complete list of the projects, please visit the FY 2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table page. The projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the potential risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred. Overall, an estimated 250 thousand people will benefit as a result of improved flood protection made possible by these rehabilitated dams.

For example, Watershed Dam No. 62 in the Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed of Noble County, OK, will be included in a USDAfunded rehabilitation partnership project. Currently awaiting rehabilitation design, the dam provides protection against flooding to about 550 Oklahomans who live and work downstream. Additionally, the dam protects seven county roads, one state highway, two U.S. highways and an interstate highway that together support about 16,200 vehicles daily. Among other critical infrastructure, the dam also protects power lines and railroad tracks. The rehabilitation project is expected to provide about $7.5 million in benefits including flood damage reduction, water supply and recreational benefits.

“These funds will go a long way towards improving the safety and continued benefits provided by these watershed structures,” Weller said. “We will work closely with the local project sponsors to ensure that these dams continue to protect and provide water for communities and agriculture.” — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor

 
 


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