USDA to grant $73 million for dam rehabilitation, assessment

By Agri-Pulse staff

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WASHINGTON, April 9, 2015 - USDA announced today it will grant $73 million to rehabilitate and assess dams in 23 states to protect public health and expand water supplies in drought affected areas. About 150 projects and assessments are being funded.

"Millions of people depend on watersheds and dams for protection from floods and to provide safe drinking water. With a changing and shifting climate, dams are also vital to holding stores of water for use during drought," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. "By investing in this critical infrastructure, we are helping to ensure a safe, resilient environment for agricultural producers and residents of rural America."

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Half of this year's dam assessments, including 15 in drought-stricken California, will assess the feasibility of using USDA funds to mitigate drought. Some 19 rehab projects in Utah will receive $30 million in funding.

In addition to nearly 50 rehabilitation projects, NRCS is conducting 100 dam assessments in 13 states through the Watershed Rehabilitation Program. This year's investments in the program follow President Obama's call to support U.S. economic growth and job opportunities through infrastructure upgrades. Currently, there are nearly 12,000 dams across the U.S.

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“USDA continues to look for new ways to mitigate the impacts of drought across the West, and this change to the Watershed Rehabilitation Program allows us to use existing infrastructure to address water quantity issues," said Kirk Hanlin, the assistant chief at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Funded projects for 2015 include:

--Tibble Fork Dam, Utah: Tibble Fork Dam is located in the American Fork-Dry Creek Watershed within U.S Forest Service lands of Utah County. The dam provides protection against flooding within American Fork Canyon, and the communities of Cedar Hills, American Fork, Highland and Pleasant Grove. The rehabilitation project is expected to provide average annual benefits of $535,000 including water supply, recreation and flood protection.

--Trinity River-East Fork above Lavon, Texas: Located in Collin County, this dam provides protection against flooding to an estimated 1,630 Texans who live and work downstream. Additionally, it protects six city streets and one U.S. Highway that together support over 39,000 vehicles daily. Among other critical infrastructure, the dam also protects power lines, water lines and fiber optic cables. The rehabilitation project is expected to annually provide about $1.5 million flood damage reduction benefits.

--Delaney Multipurpose Complex Dam, Massachusetts: The Delaney Multipurpose Complex consists of two dams, the Delaney Dam and the East Bolton Dam. Originally built in 1971, the Delaney Complex does not meet current dam safety criteria. Dam failure would result in damages to 272 buildings, nine roads, two bridges, other public infrastructure, public utilities and potential loss of life. The dam currently provides $382,130 in annual flood protection benefits to the downstream communities including recreational opportunities, water supply for irrigation, groundwater recharge and base flow for downstream wastewater assimilation.

According to USDA, NRCS watershed projects provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits to 47 million Americans by reducing flooding and erosion, increasing water supply and improving recreation and wildlife habitat.

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