Out Of 1,934 Dams Currently Operating In New York State, 52% Are Classified As High Or Significant Hazard, Risking Economic Loss, Environmental Damage, Disruption Of Lifeline Facilities, And Even Loss Of Life

Senators Ask What Is Being Done To Support And Protect Local Communities That Are Responsible For Maintaining Nearby Dams 

Schumer, Gillibrand To Feds: We Must Not Pass Up Any Opportunity To Protect Lives, Homes & Local Businesses

Following catastrophic dam failures earlier this year in Michigan which forced 10,000 people to evacuate their homes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and caused at least $175 million in damage, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, in an effort to prevent such tragedy from happening in New York, today urged the Army Corps of Engineers to reveal what is currently being done to provide federal support to the entities responsible for maintaining the 1,934 dams listed on the National Inventory of Dams, in New York State. The senators revealed that out of dams in New York, 424, or 22%, are classified as high hazard, indicating that failure would likely result in a loss of life or major property destruction, and 576, or 30%, are classified as significant hazard, indicating that failure would likely result in economic loss, environmental damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, and more.

“New York has been through tragedy after tragedy in the last year, from the Halloween storm to COVID-19, and while as New Yorkers we always come back stronger than ever, we should also take measures to end the series of tragic events,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why, after witnessing the dam failures that devastated parts of Michigan earlier this year, I am calling on the Army Corps of Engineers to do everything in their power to protect New Yorkers who live near one of the nearly 2,000 dams in the state. We must do everything we can to shore up and strengthen our dams and ensure that New Yorkers and their homes are safe.”

“The dam failures in Michigan were an unfortunate reminder that we must take every precaution to rehabilitate our dams and invest in America’s crumbling water infrastructure,” said Senator Gillibrand, member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “With more than half of New York’s dams classified as high or significant hazard, families, homes, and businesses across the state could be at great risk of serious damage if any of these dams were to fail. I urge the Army Corps of Engineers to provide plans to prevent another avoidable tragedy caused by dam failure. New Yorkers depend on the federal government to take critical action to ensure our dams are resilient and safe and I will always fight to ensure that the safety of New York’s water infrastructure is a top priority.”

In total, 52% of dams currently operating in New York State are classified as high or significant hazard, potentially putting thousands of New Yorkers at risk if they were to fail. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that while a dam does not necessarily have to be in poor condition or deteriorating to be classified as high or significant hazard, catastrophic failure would create an emergency and devastate local homes, businesses, and livelihoods.

Furthermore, the senators clarified that they were asking the Army Corps of Engineers what specific measures they were taking to maintain New York’s dams, other than through the High Hazard Potential Dam Grant Program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which both senators support. They also specifically asked for more information on what actions the federal government has taken to maintain the 29 federally-owned dams in New York and protect residents who live in surrounding areas.

Senator Schumer and Senator Gillibrand’s letter to Colonel Luzzatto, Lieutenant Colonel Toth, Colonel Litz, and Colonel Short in the Army Corps of Engineers can be found below:

Dear Colonel Luzzatto, Lieutenant Colonel Toth, Colonel Litz, and Colonel Short:

In the wake of the tragic dam failures of Edenville and Sanford Dams in Sanford, Michigan that resulted in thousands of residents being evacuated and homes and businesses flooded, we write to you to request information on what is being done to maintain the nearly 2,000 dams in New York State listed on the National Inventory of Dams, particularly high and significant hazard dams.

The National Inventory of Dams, managed by the Army Corps, lists 1,934 dams in New York managed by a variety of federal, state, local, and private facilities. Of those dams, 424 or 22% are listed as high hazard dams, indicating that a dam failure could likely result in loss of human life. An additional 576 or 30% of dams are listed as significant hazard dams, signifying that a dam failure may result in economic loss, disruption of lifeline facilities, environmental damage, and more. Together, those account for more than half of all dams in the state.

For example, the Kensico Dam in Valhalla, New York, contains the 30.6-billion gallon Kensico Reservoir which provides drinking water to New York City and is situated close to many Westchester homes, businesses, and state and local emergency resources including the County's emergency stockpile, Westchester Medical Center, Blythedale Children’s hospital, New York Medical College, and more. County officials have previously stated that if the dam were to fail the water would reach the 5th floor of the White Plains County Office Building located miles away.

Additionally, the Mamaroneck Reservoir Dam in the Village of Mamaroneck has experienced recurring flood events, such as the April 2007 flooding which caused over $50 million in damages and resulted in one death in the village. We thank Colonel Asbery, the previous New York District Commander, for his efforts in securing a Chief’s Report and strongly advocating for the Mamaroneck and Sheldrake River Flood Risk Management Project—a separate but necessary measure to mitigate repetitive flooding—but we cannot imagine the further devastation that a failure of such a dam would wreak on the local community.

In the Buffalo District, the Lewiston Dam was constructed to house the water in the reservoir for the Robert Moses Niagara Hydroelectric Power Station. If this dam were to fail, not only would it seriously disrupt the Niagara River, but it would jeopardize the electricity production for the eastern seaboard. Also in the Buffalo District, the Mount Morris Dam in Livingston County is maintained by USACE and is designed to prevent the Genesee River from flooding the City of Rochester and surrounding towns.  It is 68 years old and was only built to last 50 years; though in good condition, it's classified a high hazard dam because there would be costly devastation should it fail. To date, it’s prevented an estimated $2 billion worth of damages to the City of Rochester and downriver communities.

In the Pittsburgh District, the Harwood Lake Dam is situated north Franklinville. If it were to fail, it could result in loss of life and millions of dollars in damage, including failure of critical facilities resulting in power outages. In addition, the dam is located near the Harwood Lake Multiuse Recreational Area which provides recreational fishing, hunting and trapping access.

Finally, in the Baltimore District, although the Susquehanna and the Chenango Rivers have historically flooded communities, particularly in 2006 and 2011, the Whitney Point Dam has been and is a crucial asset to prevent the threat of further flooding. Constructed in 1942, the dam is estimated to have prevented over $700 million dollars of flood related damages. It also helps preserve the Whitney Point Reservoir which is an integral recreational resource beloved by the community.

While a high or significant hazard classification does not necessarily indicate the dam is in poor condition, if one were to experience catastrophic failure, it would create an evacuation emergency and devastate local homes, businesses, and the lives of New York residents. Thus, we seek clarity what measures your Army Corps Districts are taking to address the maintenance needs of such dams in New York. We are supportive of federal funding programs such as the High Hazard Potential Dam Grant Program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and seek to understand what other measures the federal government, through the Army Corps of Engineers, are being taken to assist local communities that may be responsible for maintenance of the high hazard dams. Furthermore, 29 of the dams listed are federally owned; of those, 12 or 40% of dams are listed with high hazard potential. What actions are the federal government taking to protect residents in the vicinities of these dams? 

The information that you provide is crucial to understanding what unmet needs there are, so that our offices may better serve local communities seeking to repair their dams and protect New York residents from potential catastrophic events related to dam failures.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and we look forward to working collaboratively with your offices on this issue. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us or our staff.



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