Civil engineers grade Maine dams D+

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A group of civil engineers have released a report card for Maine infrastructure, giving Maine a C- overall and giving Maine's dams a D+.

ASCE's 2012 Report Card for Maine's Infrastructure (71-page PDF) comes four years after its first Report Card was issued in 2008.  The Report Card covers infrastructure including roads, bridges, railroads, ports and waterways, passenger transportation, airports, dams, municipal wastewater, municipal drinking water, contaminated site remediation, solid waste, schools, energy, and state parks.  It was prepared by a team of nineteen ASCE infrastructure leaders who analyzed issues including existing conditions, capacity, operations & maintenance or deferred maintenance, public safety & security, risk and consequences of failure, and current and projected levels of funding.

As the report notes, Maine has over a 1,000 dams, mostly privately owned.  153 of Maine's dams are classified as high- or significant-hazard-potential.  Dam safety is an important issue, both for dam owners and from a public policy perspective.  When dams fail, they can pose risks to people, communities, properties, and the environment.  According to the report, 131 federally regulated dams are in good repair, but most non-hydropower dams are subject only to state regulation.  Most of Maine’s dams are low-hazard potential, but are more than 50 years old.  Moreover, most of these dams do not generate revenues, making it harder to fund their upkeep even though they may provide values like maintaining lake environments for people and wildlife.

The ASCE report finds that Maine continues to fall well below the needed funding for dam safety inspectors and ranks near the bottom nationally for dam safety program funding.  The report critiques Maine’s Dam Safety Program, which spends much less than the other Northern New England states, is understaffed and has no enforcement division.

Will the ASCE report card lead to changes in how Maine regulates dams?  What funding sources are available to help private dam owners maintain their facilities in safe condition?  Will the state respond by revamping its dam safety program?

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