Report: most dams are environmentally and economically unnecessary


A new report shines a light on the problem of aging dams in the United States and what steps policymakers should be doing to remove unnecessary and unsafe dams.

Milwaukee’s Estabrook dam is just one example of an aging and unnecessary dam.

The Estabrook Dam was built in 1937 and since then has experienced the same fate of other dams throughout the country. Milwaukee County has failed to maintain the necessary repairs to the dam, and has been granted extensions by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to repair of abandon the dam. The deadline is December 31, 2016. But recently, the City of Milwaukee and several Milwaukee County officials, hatched a plan to sell the dam to MMSD for $1 for the dam to be removed.

In a joint letter, officials expressed that removing the dam or selling it is “necessary to ensure that millions of dollars in taxpayer resources aren’t wasted on an unnecessary dam that harms the environment and poses a potential flood risk.”

The report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) says the dam infrastructure has suffered from chronic under-investment.

The Hill reports:

“We’re hearing a lot about infrastructure these days, and the need to deal with crumbling infrastructure,” David Hayes, a senior fellow at CAP, said during a panel discussion on Tuesday. “And guess what? That applies to our dams as well.”

But instead of urging policymakers to fix every aging dam across the country, CAP is advocating for the removal of certain structures on a case-by-case basis.

“We need to be smart about which ones we keep and how we maximize their use,” Hayes said.

By 2020, at least 65 percent of dams will be more than 50 years old and 27 percent will be more than 80 years old, according to CAP. Thirty-one percent of dams are classified as a “significant” or “high” hazard, with less than half of those having an emergency action plan.

Dams were built largely for economic purposes, with benefits that include flood and debris control, water storage and irrigation, hydropower, navigation and recreation.

“Americans embraced and celebrated dams as good and necessary structures. We built dams, and lots of them,” Hayes said. “Over time, skepticism began to creep in about whether perhaps we went too far. We also started to realize how destructive dams could be to the environment.”

Because most dams were built before the 1980s, the need and benefits of the structures have either diminished or no longer exist thanks to new technologies.

Read more about this report at The Hill