2017 report released in March. The
Army Corps of Engineers estimated it
would take $45 billion to fix aging, yet
critical, high-hazard potential dams.
It’s not only dams that are in need
of repairs. The U.S. received a “D+”
overall on 16 areas of infrastructure.
To raise the overall infrastructure
grade and maintain our global
competitiveness, Congress and the
states must invest an additional $206
billion, according to the report.
State agencies regulate most of the
nation’s 90,000 dams. Unlike bridges
and roads, the U.S. government
may inspect the dams but it doesn’t
maintain most of them. More than 65
percent are privately owned and those
owners may lack the money needed for
Experts say dam owners need to
know how their structures are aging
and prepare for the repairs that need
to be done. They also need to develop
a time line for replacement and know
how to respond if the dam fails.
“We’re chasing an aging
population,” said Louis Gritzo, vice
president and manager of research
with FM Global.
It is most important to conduct
regular inspections and deal with what
seem to be minor issues immediately.
“Many people just think you build
a dam and it’s just there and fades into
the background,” McCarty said.
“But it really is an active system that
has to be maintained — just like a road
or a bridge.”
Gritzo speaks with clients about
opportunities to retrofit facilities and
fill in the weak spots. More often than
not, an engineer looks at an aging
structure and weighs when it is best for
a new build. The cost of that is often
too challenging, Gritzo said.
Unlike a river flooding over its
banks, a dam breach may occur with
little to no warning.
An emergency response plan is
needed to lay out the time required to
get mitigation efforts in place and who
is responsible for completing each task.
The insurer works with clients
to decide if that amount of water is
something they can protect a facility
against, or if it’s too large.
“If it’s a meter of water or less,
you can protect against it,” Gritzo
said. “That’s an easy cut-off point.”
When a dam is designated a “high
hazard,” it means there’s a potential
for loss of life if it fails. All high hazard
dams require an emergency action plan
(EAP). Dams with a “low hazard” or
“significant hazard” may have a low
expectation for loss of life but still carry
potential for damage to surrounding
terrain, roads or buildings.
As of 2015, a quarter of dams
designated “high hazard” lack an EAP.
Sometimes, dam owners don’t even
know they are labeled high hazard,
Risk managers should contact the
authority or municipality that creates the
EAP to start ongoing communication
and organize emergency drills.
“The time to be swapping business
cards and introducing yourself is not
when there’s an emergency,” Gritzo said.
McCarty periodically reviews the
state assessments of dams in his clients’
communities to ascertain the condition
of the dams and what ongoing
maintenance has been done. He also
checks that each community has an
EAP in place should something occur.
“Our clients are doing a great job
with it, but we know that there are
a lot of dams that aren’t getting the
attention they need,” McCarty said.
“There has to be a more robust
conversation around flood,” said
Dickson of NFS Edge.
“The way we do that is not responding
in the face of imminent disaster, but
having the conversation when the levee
is not about to be breached or the
spillway is not being activated because
the dam is at historic highs.”
Municipal leaders should address
any ongoing maintenance needed,
the EAP they have in place and the
responsibilities that go along with
having a dam, McCarty said.
“We’ve had an incident here that
has heightened our awareness. Those
things tend to tail off as time passes,”
McCarty said. “We really need to
keep this in our collective memories
otherwise we’ll see more and more of
these incidents occur.” &
JULIANN WALSH is a staff writer at Risk &
Insurance. She can be reached at jwalsh@
CONDUCT HAZARD ASSESSMENTS
“With a dam breach, when it fails,
it fails quickly, the water comes out
quickly and there’s a limited amount of
time,” said Gritzo.
Risk managers need to conduct solid
hazard assessments in the event one of
these dams has a catastrophic failure.
FM Global uses tools such as complex
computer models to calculate different
breach scenarios and determine where
the water might go and how much
flooding might occur when it gets there.
U.S. Roads Also Get a “D” Grade
A massive fire caused an elevated portion of Interstate 85 in Atlanta to collapse earlier this year, rerouting nearly a quarter million daily travelers for
weeks while emergency repairs were made. A homeless man was charged
with setting fire to high-density polyethylene pipes and fiberglass conduits
stored under the overpass, CNN reported.
The case is a jarring example highlighting how important — and fragile —
the U.S. roadway system is to the economy. A breakdown prevents workers
from reaching their jobs and delays delivery of goods.
When the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued the 2017
Infrastructure Report Card, the roadway system received a “D” grade. Overall
U.S. infrastructure received a D+.
“Part of the problem is that the U.S. has been underfunding its highway
system for years, resulting in a $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge
capital needs,” ASCE authors said in the study.
One out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition and
U.S. roads have a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs,
ASCE said. The Georgia Department of Transportation used the Interstate
85 closure as an opportunity to pave a 6.6-mile stretch of the busy highway
previously in dire need of repair.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on
road, highway, and bridge improvements returns $5.20 in the form of lower
vehicle maintenance costs, decreased delays, reduced fuel consumption,
improved safety, lower road and bridge maintenance costs, and reduced
emissions as a result of improved traffic flow, the report said.