There Are Many More Dams Like the One That Failed in Michigan

By Matthew McMullan
May 27 2020 |
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Are we going to fix American infrastructure or what?

Last week a dam broke in central Michigan, and the resulting floodwaters damaged a second dam and forced evacuations in three towns.

What caused the dam to fail? Well … It’s spring, and it rained a lot. Development in the area has increased runoff into the man-made lake behind it. And, oh yeah, its owners didn’t maintain it.

The owners – most dams in the United States are privately owned and have owners – naturally blame state regulators for this disaster, and also said the revocation of the failed dam’s federal hydropower generation license in 2018 left them without money to pay for repairs and improvements needed to keep the 96-year-old structure safe. But the license was revoked in the first place because federal regulators said the owners weren’t keeping up with maintenance!

Sounds like everybody’s got a case of pass-the-buck-itis. So the courts will assign blame because thousands of people quite literally lost their homes and everybody’s getting sued. 

So how do we fix a problem like this? This is hardly the only time an American dam has failed, it’s just the most recent example. And there are thousands of dams across the country considered to be in hazardous condition right now. And the head of the Association of State Dam Safety Officers – experts in this field if there are any – told the Washington Post that repairing them could cost billions of dollars.

We fix a problem like this with an enormous American-made infrastructure package.

A researcher from American Rivers, a nonprofit that advocates for waterway maintenance, says safety and environmental regulations should be increased, their enforcement should be stepped up, and funding for dam maintenance should be boosted.

The pandemic has left a lot of states broke as a joke, so that means this will require a federal response. Well how fortuitous: On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to meet President Trump in Washington. Aides have taken the unusual step of releasing video of the two leaders preparing for their meeting …

… during which they’ll discuss the federal economic response to the coronavirus pandemic. They’re expected to talk specifically about infrastructure spending as a means of reviving an economy that’s now home to tens of millions of people who are suddenly out of work.

Keep regulations in place, step up enforcement, and put money into fixing America’s dams as part of a massive infrastructure package. Include strong Buy America preferences for this work so this deluge of federal spending benefits American manufacturers and workers. And start bailing out this under-water economy!