Padilla, Cramer Introduce Legislation to Reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program through FY 2028. The program’s authorization expired on September 30, leaving thousands of high-risk dams across the country vulnerable to failure.

The National Dam Safety Program is the primary source of federal support for state-level dam safety programs. Led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the program supports state programs with resources for training, staffing needs, emergency planning, and dam inspection and monitoring activities. The United States is home to roughly 92,000 dams, including nearly 6,000 non-federal high-hazard potential dams, many of which are in small or rural communities that cannot afford repairs.

“As climate change increases the risks of extreme flooding and threatens our nation’s water infrastructure, we cannot afford to go backward in our commitment to address dam safety,” said Senator Padilla. “Of California’s 1,530 dams, more than 800 are classified as High Hazard Potential. Without consistent maintenance and repair, these dams and thousands of dams across the country will be at risk of failure, jeopardizing lives. We urgently need to reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program so we can keep our nation’s dams up-to-date and help disadvantaged communities invest in necessary infrastructure repairs.”

“Dams are an essential component of our nation’s infrastructure and states need adequate support to oversee their management,” said Senator Cramer. “North Dakota is responsible for over 3,000 dams, and reauthorizing this program will provide critical resources to our state for dam safety inspections, monitoring, and emergency planning efforts.”

“On behalf of ASDSO, I want to thank Senators Kevin Cramer and Alex Padilla for supporting the need for strong dam safety programs. Reauthorization of this important program will continue federal leadership and needed funding support to reduce the risks associated with dam failure. We encourage Congress to support proposed improvements to the law which will make it more effective across all states,” said Sharon Tapia, P.E., president, Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO).

“The nation’s 92,000 dams have suffered from decades of deferred maintenance and chronic underfunding, threatening the safety of the communities which they serve,” said Maria Lehman, 2023 President of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). “Recent seasons of record flooding and increasing development downstream of rural dams have not helped. The introduction of the bipartisan National Dam Safety Program Reauthorization Act is an important step to ensuring states have what they need to monitor the thousands of dams in their communities. This program assists states with the vital resources needed to support inspections and monitoring, staffing and training needs, and emergency planning. ASCE commends Senator Padilla, Senator Cramer, Congressman Edwards, and Congresswoman Kuster for their leadership on this issue, and encourages Congress to pass this needed legislation quickly to help ensure the safety of the nation’s dams.” 

The legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Representatives Chuck Edwards (R-N.C.-11) and Annie Kuster (D-N.H.-02) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

Federal assistance through the National Dam Safety Program plays a critical role in safeguarding downstream communities from the impacts of dam failure, helping to reduce overall dam operating costs and providing resources for training, staffing needs, emergency planning, and dam inspection and monitoring activities.

Specifically, this legislation would:

  1. Reauthorize the National Dam Safety Program through FY 2028.
  2. Eliminate the 35 percent cost-sharing requirement for small disadvantaged communities under the High Hazard Potential Rehabilitation Grant Program.
  3. Remove the requirement that states must provide an equal match for federal funding, which will assist smaller state programs and allow other federal funds to be leveraged by states more freely.
  4. Clarify that the operations and maintenance of “high hazard potential” dams are the responsibility of dam owners.

Senator Padilla has been a strong leader on addressing water infrastructure issues in California and across the country, including advocating for repairing infrastructure in underserved communities. Last year, Padilla helped secure key provisions in the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 to authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works activities, which included flood control and dam safety projects. Earlier this year, he chaired a hearing that examined the lack of water access and quality in Tribal communities across the country. Padilla and the late U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein also previously called on the Interior Department to prioritize $8.3 billion in Western water infrastructure funding for California projects to promote preparedness and resiliency to climate-driven droughts.

A one pager of the bill is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.