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Schumer pushes plans for dams

The dam at Lake Jefferson, outside of Jeffersonville, NY on Route 52, is listed as a low hazard dam; many dams in Sullivan County are listed as high hazard.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
April 17, 2013

NEW YORK STATE — There are hundreds of dams in New York State that have a classification as “high” hazard. Many don’t have plans should a problem with a dam develop.

To remedy that situation, Senator Charles Schumer is calling on his colleagues to re-authorize a program that would provide funding for inspections and for the creation of emergency action plans (EAP) to protect residents and businesses downstream of high hazard and significant hazard dams. A high hazard dam is one that would probably result in significant loss of life if it failed, a significant hazard dam would probably result in significant property damage if it failed.

Schumer, who held a press conference on the subject on April 12, said of a total of 1,100 classified as high or significant hazards in the state, as many as 800 don’t have EAPs. Schumer is pushing for passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2013 (WRDA), which is possibly set for a vote in the next two weeks and will contain proposals to improve navigation, coastal management and infrastructure financing.

As it relates to upstate New York, one of the most important aims of WRDA is to boost federal funding for dam inspections and maintenance and for stronger safety requirements through the reauthorization of the expired National Dam Safety Program (NDSP).

State regulations now require hazardous dams to develop EAPs in conjunction with state and local dam safety experts, and this plan will provide critical funding for those efforts. According to the National Inventory of Dams (NID), the average dam in New York State is 60 years old, and high hazard dams are an average 84 years old.

Schumer said, because of their age and the potential for disaster, it is crucial that these hazards receive proper monitoring and maintenance from regulatory authorities.

EAPs for some high hazard dams in Sullivan County, such as the dams at the Swinging Bridge Reservoir and Toronto Reservoir, have recently been submitted to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Dams classified as “low” hazard, meaning they don’t pose a significant threat to homes and businesses downstream, such as the dams a Lake Jefferson and Briscoe Lake, are not required to have an EAP.

An EAP for a dam is an official document that establishes procedures to minimize loss of life and property damage in the event of a dam failure. An EAP usually contains a description of necessary preventive maintenance for that structure, maps that indicate areas susceptible to flooding, and a list of potential emergency conditions—like extreme weather—that could trigger a dam failure.