Bush Administration Seriously Delinquent on Dam Security
As the Bush administration signaled when it banned tourists and posted guards in the first nervous days following the attacks of September 11, 2001, major dams such as Grand Coulee and Hoover can be instruments of mass destruction if they fail.
Since this grand symbolic gesture, however, the Bush team has dropped the ball on safeguarding thousands of high-hazard dams across the country--dams which are vulnerable to mundane failures due to lack of inspection and regulation, as well as to destruction at the hands of terrorists.
As the catastrophic 1889 flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania demonstrated, a dam failure can unleash destruction rivaling the collapse of the twin towers at the World Trade Center. The death toll in Johnstown exceeded 2,200.
The Bush administration failure on dam security also includes insufficient funding for states, which inspect and regulate 95 percent of the nation's 80,000 dams, and inadequate federal oversight under the Congressionally mandated National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
This law requires that FEMA, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, provide Congress with progress reports every two years. The NDSP report due last year has yet to appear.
As of early 2003 (the most recent filing), at least 40 percent of the nation's most hazardous dams-- located above populated areas which would be flooded in a dam failure-- had not prepared the required Emergency Action Plan (EAP). As the FEMA website notes: "With an increased risk of terrorism against our infrastructure, EAP's are even more critical than ever, and provide an additional measure of protection for downstream residents and dam owners."