Statement of Robert Quint, Senior Advisor
U.S. Department of the Interior
Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Water and Power
Amendments to the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act
February 27, 2014
Chairman Schatz and members of the Subcommittee, I am Bob Quint, Senior Advisor at the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation). Thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Department of the Interior (Department) on S. 1946, a bill to provide permanent authority for appropriations under the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act. While Reclamation has been able to carry out its priority of ensuring the safety and reliability of Reclamation dams under current law, the Department supports this bill which would support Reclamation's efforts in reducing the risk associated with Reclamation's portfolio of dams.
Reclamation's inventory of 476 dams includes 370 classified as "high hazard" dams and dikes, located at 250 water projects across the 17 Reclamation states. The dam safety program helps to ensure the safety and reliability of these facilities. Approximately 50 percent of Reclamation's dams were built between 1900 and 1950 and approximately 90 percent of the dams were built before current state-of-the-art design and construction practices. Considering the age of Reclamation dams, the ongoing monitoring, facility reviews, analysis, investigations, and emergency management are critical components of the dam safety program. We are proud of our dam safety work, but we also realize we must never take safety for granted.
Some of Reclamation's highest priorities are to deliver water to and generate power for its customers without disruption, while protecting public safety. In its 111-year history, Reclamation has had one dam failure that resulted in loss of life and damage to property. Teton Dam failed in 1976 during initial filling due to a design and construction deficiency. After the Teton Dam disaster Congress enacted the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act in 1978, Public Law 95-578, and Reclamation began its current dam safety program.
The original 1978 statute has been amended four times, beginning in 1984. In the first amendment, Public Law 98-404, Congress increased the authorization for appropriations by $100 million. The 1984 amendment also instituted a 15 percent non-Federal repayment requirement for modifications made as a result of new hydrologic or seismic information or changes in the state-of-the-art technology. Public Law 98-404 also increased the authorized appropriations ceiling an additional $650 million, indexed for inflation. Public Law 106-377 in 2000 increased the ceiling another $95 million, and two years later, Public Law 107-117 added $32 million. The last amendment, Public Law 108-439, was enacted in 2004 and provided the current program ceiling of $1.417 billion, indexed from October 2003 price levels. Approximately $400 million remains available under that ceiling. Apart from changes to the program's authorization ceiling, the 1984 amendments also directed Reclamation to submit to Congress, prior to taking corrective actions, a report on any modifications expected to exceed $750,000 in actual construction costs. Public Law 108-439 increased the amount to $1,250,000 (October 1, 2003, price levels), as adjusted to reflect any ordinary fluctuations in construction costs indicated by applicable engineering cost indexes.
The Bureau of Reclamation has developed a dam safety program that effectively implements the Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety and to modifies dams in accordance with the 1978 Act. In 1996, an independent review team comprised of representatives from the Association of Dam Safety Officials assessed the Department of the Interior's Dam Safety Program. In 1997, the team released a comprehensive and independent report finding that the Bureau of Reclamation has "an effective Dam Safety Program" overseen by highly competent staff using state-of-the-art technical standards and expertise. Reclamation's ability to respond to dam safety issues and to take preventative, corrective actions to reduce the public risks under the authority of the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act was a critical component of this favorable peer review. In addition, outside experts have annually reviewed Reclamation's dam safety activities to ensure that the program has adequate policies and procedures in place to address public safety issues.
Reclamation's Fiscal Year 2014 budget requests lists current modification/construction projects where funds under the program's existing authorized appropriations ceiling have been planned. These include Folsom Dam in California, Glendo and Guernsey Dams in Wyoming, Echo Dam in Utah, and Red Willow Dam in Nebraska. Stampede Dam in California, Nelson Dikes in Montana, Bull Lake Dam in Wyoming, Hyatt Dam in Oregon, Hyrum Dam in Utah, and Altus Dam in Oklahoma are slated to have modification reports submitted to Congress in 2014 and 2015. The current appropriations ceiling would be able to support these projects but would commit all but an estimated $200 million of the remaining authorization. Six additional dams, including planned work at B.F. Sisk Dam in California and Scoggins Dam in Oregon, are in need of risk reduction action with combined costs currently estimated at $1 billion. Based on our present knowledge of these upcoming projects, an authorization increase of at least $1 billion would be needed to allow Reclamation to address these dam safety risks.
Since 1978, when Congress first created the Safety of Dams program, we have carried out 80 risk reduction corrective actions totaling approximately $1.43 billion. Reclamation has implemented these corrective actions to protect public safety at the lowest feasible cost. In each of these projects, Reclamation's process benefitted from our relationships with the end users of the water and power from these projects. With that in mind, we have formalized requirements for communicating the need for dam safety modifications with our customers in a timely fashion. The Reclamation Manual now contains formal policy and directives which require the development of a plan in cooperation with our water and power contractors to assure continued communication and involvement during the development of alternatives, selection of a preferred alternative, and implementation of the actions required to reduce risk.
However, the nature of any safety program does not always afford the luxury of being able to schedule outlays as precisely as we can in other programs. Sometimes the need for corrective action presents itself with little notice. When sudden unexpected performance of a dam requires a modification to reduce risk, Reclamation must act quickly to protect the project and the downstream public. One example of such successful immediate action is the emergency work we performed in 2006 at Deer Flat Dam in Idaho. We discovered voids beneath the outlet works conduit and embankment material was being removed through cracks in the outlet work conduit that required immediate attention in order to allow for continued operation of the dam and reservoir. Working closely with local project beneficiaries we were able to quickly identify and implement an interim solution to reduce risk to the downstream public without significantly curtailing service to water users. Without the Safety of Dams program authority, we could not have completed the investigation and interim repairs prior to the Spring run-off. The quick response meant the reservoir was ready to store critically needed run-off water for beneficial use later in 2007.
Another example of a successful action was the quick response needed at Red Willow Dam in Nebraska after sinkholes and extensive cracking were discovered in the dam embankment. The reservoir was immediately drawn down to reduce risk to the downstream public. Expedited actions were taken to implement long term modifications to the embankment and return the water supply as quickly as possible.
In closing, S. 1946 removes the ceiling from the program's authorization for appropriations. Under current law, the Department has been able to carry out its priority of ensuring the safety and reliability of Reclamation dams under the Dam Safety program, and has been able to do so through several increases in the ceiling since the program was originally authorized in 1979. S. 1946 would also preserve all of the program's existing provisions, including the ability to respond quickly with limited interim actions, and the obligation to notify Congress and consult with project beneficiaries. Throughout our implementation of these authorities we will continue to evaluate this program for potential changes to improve planning and operations. There are always ways to better serve the taxpayer by clearly delineating between dam safety modifications and other infrastructure improvements, and protect the safety of the people and businesses that rely on Reclamation facilities. Meanwhile, we believe the provisions calling for regular dialogue with our customers assures a fair, transparent program without compromising the Department's ability to maintain dam safety and security.
This concludes my statement. Again, while Reclamation has been able to carry out its priority of ensuring the safety and reliability of Reclamation dams under current law, the Department supports this bill which would support Reclamation's efforts in reducing the risk associated with Reclamation's portfolio of dams. I would be pleased to answer questions at the appropriate time.