JOHNSTON, RI – Rhode Island’s mill dams helped shape the Industrial Revolution. Now, federal, state, and local officials are working together to try to keep Rhode Island’s dams in better shape.
Today, at the Almy Dam in Johnston, U.S. Senator Jack Reed joined with Mayor Joseph M. Polisena, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Director Janet L. Coit, and engineers and dam safety officials to highlight the need to repair “high hazard” dams across the state. High hazard potential dams are those dams where failure is probable to cause loss of human life and endanger population centers and ecosystems, especially in periods of extreme weather and flooding.
“Rhode Island has over 660 dams, many of them over a century old. They play important roles with respect to our water supply, flood control, recreation, and other community uses. Dams have shaped our landscape and we must ensure these dams are in good shape to protect lives, homes, and businesses,” said Reed, the author of the High Hazard Potential Small Dam Safety Act. This bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), would authorize $445 million in federal grant assistance for the rehabilitation and repair of non-federal high hazard potential dams nationwide. If Reed’s bill becomes law and is fully funded, Rhode Island would be eligible for up to $700,000 per year to help inspect, repair, and rehabilitate high hazard dams.
Reed’s measure was included in the Senate-passed Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which authorizes water-related infrastructure projects around the country. The bill is currently in conference with the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to DEM, which performs compliance-monitoring inspections of dams throughout the state, Rhode Island has 667 dams, 96 of which are classified as high hazard. According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), the number of high hazard potential dams increased nationally from 9,281 in 1998 to more than 14,700 in 2013.
“It would be a real tragedy if a high hazard dam in need of repairs failed because the cost of fixing it was just out of reach. So by assisting in the repair or removal of high hazard dams before they fail, my legislation makes an investment in future cost savings, not to mention lives and property saved,” noted Reed.
Johnston has made significant investments to improve dam safety in recent years. In 2013, the town agreed to allocate a total of $1.4 million for repairs to four municipally owned dams in the coming years. It recently completed a $153,800 upgrade to the dam at Oak Swamp Reservoir. Repair work is also ongoing and planned for the Almy Dam and the Simmons Upper and Simmons Lower dams.