The Associated Press: At-risk dams in the United States

Data on hazard levels, condition ratings, inspections and emergency action plans for dams in the U.S.

Description:

The nation’s dams are on average more than a half-century old and, in some cases, weren’t designed to handle the amount of water that could result from the increasingly intense rainstorms of a changing climate. Yet almost no information has been publicly available about the condition of these dams. Since 2002, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has redacted inspectors’ condition assessments from its National Inventory of Dams over security concerns; the Corps makes publicly available only the hazard rating of certain dams, which assesses the potential for loss of human life or economic and environmental damage should a dam fail.

The Associated Press has created an exclusive dataset that fills in those information gaps for a subset of dams across the country. It found at least 1,688 high hazard dams that are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, and in places where failure is likely to kill at least one person.

The AP’s analysis is based on data obtained through dozens of state open-records requests, which allowed the AP to compile a dataset that contains both hazard levels and condition ratings for dams in 45 states and Puerto Rico. Five states – Alabama, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Texas – did not fully comply with the records request for reasons described in the methodology and caveats sections below. (Iowa provided all requested documents but had no dams listed as both high hazard and in poor or unsatisfactory condition).

For the subset of high hazard dams in poor or unsatisfactory condition, the AP is sharing state inspection reports and local emergency action plans that provide additional details about the problems of some particular dams, their potential to inundate nearby areas if they were to catastrophically fail and plans to respond should there be a disaster.

The AP also analyzed the annual budget and staffing levels for dam safety offices in each state using data from an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Additionally, the AP obtained data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state dam safety offices about $10 million of federal grants that were awarded this fall to 26 states. The grants are the first under the new Rehabilitation of High Hazard Potential Dams Grant Program. The money is to go toward risk assessments and engineering designs to repair high hazard dams that have failed to meet safety standards and pose an unacceptable risk to the public.

What’s included:

The AP is sharing six datasets it has compiled. It also is sharing the inspection documents and emergency action plans for high hazard dams in poor or unsatisfactory condition, which can be accessed through the 50-state interactive above.

Tables Includes:
  • dams_in_nid_state_reports.csv: Details of all dams for which the Associated Press obtained data from state and federal agencies.
  • dam_safety_budgets.csv: A state-by-state table of the annual budgets for dam safety offices from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2019
  • dam_safety_staff.csv: A state by state table of the annual full-time-equivalent staffing levels of state dam safety offices from calendar year 2009 through 2018
  • FEMA_grants.csv: A table listing 26 states and FEMA grants they have received for their dam programs. It starts with FEMA data but includes exclusive reporting providing further details about the grants.
  • reasons_dams_documents_not_provided.csv: A listing of high hazard dams in poor or unsatisfactory condition for which states did not release inspection reports or emergency action plans, with the reasons cited by the states.
Fields Include:
  • Dam safety budgets 2010 – 2019 per state
  • Dam safety staff 2010 – 2019 per state
  • Structured metadata about dams including county, state, condition, hazard level, last inspected date and ~10 other fields
  • FEMA grant amount and reasons
Example Use Cases:
  • Find dams that are both high hazard and in poor condition
  • Find ownership type for riskiest dams
  • Find dams missing Emergency Action Plans

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