- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has opened applications for a new $7.5 billion low-cost loan program that will help finance $15 billion worth of dam safety projects, the agency announced last month. The money is authorized through the Corps’ 2014 Water Infrastructure Financing Program.
- The loans are available for safety projects with eligible costs of more than $20 million and to those that are listed in the National Inventory of Dams, a congressionally authorized database, USACE said.
- The program is currently limited to non-federally owned, operated and maintained dam projects. It will pay for up to 49% of project costs, or up to 80% for projects in disadvantaged communities.
The country’s stock of dams is increasingly decrepit: The dams in the National Inventory average 61 years old, and it would cost $157.5 billion to rehabilitate the 88,616 deficient non-federal dams alone, according to research from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. The price tag to remediate just the most critical dams is estimated at $34.1 billion.
Rehabilitation becomes necessary as dams age, technical standards and techniques evolve and downstream populations and land use change. Many dam owners, especially private ones, find it difficult to finance upkeep, but deferring maintenance can lead to disastrous failures.
Plus, extreme weather induced by climate change is stressing aging dams across the nation and pushing them to their breaking points. USACE hopes the new funding stream will help address some of these critical deficiencies.
“The Corps Water Infrastructure Financing Program provides a new and significant tool that can be used to keep the nation’s infrastructure resilient and dependable for multiple generations,” said Michael Connor, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, in the release. “As we deal with unprecedented climate challenges that require robust and effective infrastructure, this new financing program will enable continued investment by our local communities in their infrastructure.”
As maintenance, repair and rehabilitation work is deferred, the price to do so continues to rise, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials warned. That’s due to a combination of factors, including higher costs for construction materials and labor and the increased breadth of engineering studies and analyses, according to its research.