Water Infrastruture Bill Includes Dam Safety Act

May 20, 2014

Credit Courtesy of the Office of Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney

The House of Representatives Tuesday passed a major water infrastructure bill that contains $70 million for dam safety programs. It is legislation that Congressmen and local lawmakers alike say will help the Hudson Valley.  

The House passed the final conference report of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, or WRRDA, by a vote of 412-4. Within this legislation is the Dam Safety Act, sponsored by Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney. Maloney mentions a classification of dams that poses a serious risk.

“New York State has 403 of these high-hazard dams and one-fourth of these are in Putnam. Westchester, Orange and Dutchess Counties, the counties I represent either in whole or in part,” says Maloney.

He notes the Hudson Valley is home to more than 800 dams overall. The American Society of Civil Engineers in its 2013 report card for America’s infrastructure rated the nation’s dams a D-plus, a grade it hopes will greatly improve because of this legislation.

The Dam Safety Act, which was also introduced by fellow Hudson Valley representative Republican Chris Gibson, reauthorizes the National Dam Safety Program, which provides support to assist states in developing Emergency Action Plans, public awareness, implementing existing dam safety programs, assisting with the purchase of equipment, and conducting dam inspections. Meanwhile, Gibson says the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill will work well in tandem with a significant portion of the larger piece of legislation, WRRDA.

“The water bill is going to help us, it’s going to complement that by reforming the Army Corps of Engineers,” says Gibson. “This is an issue that I’ve heard time and again as I’ve moved across the villages, hamlets and towns of upstate New York. It’s taken too for the Army Corps to complete projects. We’re bringing forward significant reforms on that score.”

WRRDA invests in water resources infrastructure through financing programs like the new Water Infrastructure and Innovative Financing Act program, improves access to drinking water through the Clean Water State Revolving Funds, invests in small and new emerging ports like the future Port of Newburgh, and provides protection against extreme weather events like Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy.  Here’s Maloney.

“Because we’ve seen these superstorm events, you can’t learn the dam isn’t safe when you have a storm like Sandy or Irene or Lee on your doorstep because that equals disaster,” says Maloney.

He adds:

“We’re not breaking the bank with any of these dam safety programs either,” says Maloney. “It’s a smart investment and we know that when we invest in mitigation, we save four times that amount in disaster recovery.”

During Hurricane Irene, in Orange County, dams at the Warwick Reservoir and in the towns of Deerpark, Blooming Grove and Tuxedo, prompted officials to evacuate neighborhoods in the potential path of flooding. Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard praises WRRDA.

“This is just a critical piece of legislation. It’s all about plumbing, isn’t it?” says Newhard. “I mean it’s the things that you don’t see in your house. It’s the things you don’t see sometimes in your nation that need the most attention. And I’m grateful that this is being focused upon.”

Randy Casale is the mayor of Beacon in Dutchess County.

“We got three major dams here that protect our water supply,” says Casale. “Most of them sit on top of the mountain, so if they fail, people below are going to be in trouble. In fact, in 1889 the __ Dam did fail and hundreds of people died down below it. So we don’t want that to happen again, and with the help of this Act, we’ll be able to keep up with our dams and make sure they’re safe for the people.”

Both Maloney and Gibson expect the Senate will pass the final conference report on WRRDA in the next week, sending it to the President’s desk.