Senators concerned about failing dams in NY

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The Whaley Lake Dam in eastern Dutchess, before being rebuilt.

WASHINGTON DC – There are almost 2,000 dams in New York and 424 of those are classified as high-risk, indicating that a failure would likely result in loss of life or major property destruction.  US Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are seeking information to help prevent dam failures.

Following catastrophic dam failures earlier this year in Michigan which forced 10,000 people to evacuate their homes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and caused at least $175 million in damage, US Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, are urging the Army Corps of Engineers to reveal what is currently being done to provide federal support for the 1,934 dams listed on the National Inventory of Dams, in New York State.

The senators revealed that out of dams in New York, 424, or 22%, are classified as high hazard, indicating that failure would likely result in a loss of life or major property destruction, and 576, or 30%, are classified as a significant hazard, indicating that failure would likely result in economic loss, environmental damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, and more.

“New York has been through tragedy after tragedy in the last year, from the Halloween storm to COVID-19, and while as New Yorkers we always come back stronger than ever, we should also take measures to end the series of tragic events,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why, after witnessing the dam failures that devastated parts of Michigan earlier this year, I am calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to do everything in their power to protect New Yorkers who live near one of the nearly 2,000 dams in the state. We must do everything we can to shore up and strengthen our dams and ensure that New Yorkers and their homes are safe.”

“The dam failures in Michigan were an unfortunate reminder that we must take every precaution to rehabilitate our dams and invest in America’s crumbling water infrastructure,” said Senator Gillibrand, member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “With more than half of New York’s dams classified as high or significant hazard, families, homes, and businesses across the state could be at great risk of serious damage if any of these dams were to fail. I urge the Army Corps of Engineers to provide plans to prevent another avoidable tragedy caused by dam failure. New Yorkers depend on the federal government to take critical action to ensure our dams are resilient and safe and I will always fight to ensure that the safety of New York’s water infrastructure is a top priority.”

In total, 52% of dams currently operating in New York State are classified as high or significant hazard, potentially putting thousands of New Yorkers at risk if they were to fail. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that while a dam does not necessarily have to be in poor condition or deteriorating to be classified as high or significant hazard, catastrophic failure would create an emergency and devastate local homes, businesses, and livelihoods.

The senators clarified that they were asking the Army Corps of Engineers what specific measures they were taking to maintain New York’s dams, other than through the High Hazard Potential Dam Grant Program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which both senators support. They also specifically asked for more information on what actions the federal government has taken to maintain the 29 federally-owned dams in New York and protect residents who live in surrounding areas.