‘High hazard’ dams needing repair likely for fixes under Reed bill

JOHNSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — With the Almy Dam in Johnston as the backdrop, Sen. Jack Reed called Friday for approval of a bill he’s sponsoring to help fix dams deemed to have “high hazard potential,” where, if the dam fails, it’s likely that people could lose their lives — and population centers and ecosystems could become endangered.

The High Hazard Potential Small Dam Safety Act, cosponsored by Republican Sen. Shelley Moor Capito of West Virginia, would authorize federal grants for rehab dams across the country.

In Rhode Island, 96 of the state’s 667 dams have been classified as “high hazard.” Dams with that classification increased from 9,281 in 1998 to more than 14,700 in 2013, Reed’s office said, citing a statistic from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO).

Johnston, for its part, allocated $1.4 million in 2013 to repair four city-owned dams in coming years. The Oak Swamp Reservoir dam recently received a $153,800 upgrade, and repair work is ongoing now at the Almy Dam and the Simmons Upper and Simmons Lower dams.

Reed’s bill remains in conference with the House of Representatives. If it becomes law and is fully funded, Rhode Island would be eligible for up to $700,000 a year for high hazard dam inspection and rehab.