Panel advances dam safety legislation to full House
Bill would require Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a new inventory of the nation's dams.
Legislation to reauthorize and upgrade the Federal Emergency Management Agency's program for improving the safety and security of dams was approved Wednesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The National Dam Safety Program Act (H.R. 4981), which would increase the annual authorization for the program from $8.6 million to $12.7 million, passed on a voice vote and was sent to the House floor. The measure reauthorizes the act from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2011.
The bulk of the money, $8.7 million a year, would go for grants to states to improve dam safety. Another $1 million would pay for a dam survey, $2 million would go for research and the remaining $1 million would to pay for FEMA staff.
Sponsored by Rep. John Kuhl, R-N.Y., the five-year reauthorization also would require the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a new inventory of the nation's dams, working with state dam safety agencies that inspect them. The survey would be turned over to FEMA, which administers program.
House Transportation ranking member James Oberstar, D-Minn, noted the program began 25 years ago after extensive dam failures and expanded in 1996 after more extensive trouble with dams. Many of them were built 60 to 70 years ago, using heavy clay and without sturdy walls, he said.
Maintaining dam safety is "a partnership with states and federal agencies and other parties," Oberstar said.
An amendment assuring wage rules would match those in other FEMA programs was offered by House Transportation Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and incorporated in the bill before the vote.
Inspection of the nation's dams is crucial at a time when terrorism has become a consideration, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., told the panel. Whole cities and regions could be destroyed by taking down dams,'' Norton said.
The federal government owns and operates only about 5 percent of the nation's nearly 78,000 dams. States have responsibility for most of the rest; some are in private hands and others are the responsibility of local government entities.