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Investigation Identifies Dams In Disrepair Around The Mountain West

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
The Jackson Lake Dam in Wyoming is "a high hazard dam in poor condition," according to an Associated Press investigation.

An analysis of dams around the United States shows that nearly 1,700 are reaching dangerous levels of disrepair, including dozens in the Mountain West.


The investigation by the Associated Press reveals that while Mountain West states are doing a good job inspecting dams, those inspections turn up plenty of potentially dangerous conditions.

In Colorado, for example, the AP investigation highlights 24 dams in unsatisfactory condition and located in places where their failure would likely kill at least one person.


David Lieb, one of the reporters who dug into the data, said people who live near dams should understand local emergency management plans, and should contact officials if they aren’t aware of them.


“Steps to take if you’re in the path of the dam, it’s not like you can put some sandbags outside of your house and just be OK if it were to fail, right?” Lieb said. “So what you really need to do in most of these cases is get out of there, evacuate. And so that’s where these emergency plans come into play.”


The investigation found 18 high-hazard dams in poor or unsatisfactory condition in Wyoming, 11 in Montana, six in Idaho and five in Utah.


Meanwhile, FEMA recently approved $10 million in grants for high-hazard dams’ risk assessments and engineering designs, not actual repairs.


Most dams in the U.S. are privately owned, the AP noted, making it “difficult for regulators to require improvements from operators who are unable or unwilling to pay the steep costs.”


The AP’s analysis includes an interactive map of all1,688 hazardous dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of last year in 44 states and Puerto Rico.  

Find reporter Madelyn Beck on Twitter @MadelynBeck8

Copyright 2019 Boise State Public Radio


This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.


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