Dams Legacy of Neglect Colorado

In this Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, photo, a rules sign stands on the north shore of Smith Reservoir in the west Denver suburb of Lakewood, Colo. Smith Reservoir is one of 24 aging dams in Colorado that were listed in unsatisfactory condition according to public records obtained by The Associated Press during a more than two-year investigation that found at least 1,688 such dams nationwide.

Smith Reservoir in Lakewood will receive a $130,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency designed for “high hazard” dams.

As reported by the Associated Press, the Smith dam is on a list of nearly 1,700 dams nationwide which inspectors have rated as being in poor or unsatisfactory condition, and where failure could cause loss of life.

Smith Reservoir is located in a residential area off of South Kipling Parkway.

FEMA will provide $10 million total to be disbursed among 26 states. The federal money is not actually for dam repairs, but rather to pay for preliminary assessments and design work.

“In general, funding is severely lacking nationwide for dam repairs,” Wendy Howard-Cooper, the head of dam safety in Virginia, told the AP. She added that one high-hazard dam by itself could cost $10 million to fix.

No federal program has existed to improve the nation’s dams, and not even half of the states have their own programs.

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials reports that of Colorado’s 1,763 state-regulated dams, nearly one-quarter have high hazard potential and 17% have significant hazard potential.

“Significant” hazard means that dam failure will cause substantial property destruction, whereas “high” hazards will include loss of life. In the past 20 years, Colorado's dam safety budget has increased from approximately $1 million to $2 million.

The association points out that in contrast to most infrastructure, nearly 60% of dams in the U.S. are privately owned. Colorado’s Third Congressional District, covering the Western Slope, has 779 dams, the most of any district. However, even the urban First District, centered in Denver, has 18 dams.

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