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More than 90 'high hazard' dams in NYS

A map of New York State highlighting dams of "high hazard."
National Inventory of Dams
More than 90 dams of "high hazard" found in New York State.

Dozens of dams in poor condition across New York state are upstream from homes, highways or businesses, posing potential threats to people if they fail.

An Associated Press analysis found 90 "high-hazard" dams in New York that also were rated in poor condition. A high-hazard designation does not mean a dam is in danger of failing, but that the loss of human life is likely if it does.

Most of those dams are operated by state or local governments, including 11 dams that are the responsibility of the state parks system. Twenty-five are privately owned.

There are several reasons for the increased risk. Long-deferred maintenance has added more dams to the troubled list. A changing climate has subjected some dams to greater strain from intense rainstorms. Homes, businesses and highways also have cropped up below dams that were originally built in remote locations.

"All of the sudden, you've got older dams with a lower design criteria that now can potentially cause loss of life if they fail," said Del Shannon, an engineer who is president of the U.S. Society on Dams.

"The number of deficient, high-hazard dams is increasing," he said, adding that without investment in upgrades, that number will continue to rise.

New York has about twice the number of high-hazard dams in poor condition as it did in 2018, when the AP collected data for its earlier analysis. The increase came as officials pushed to assess all high-hazard dams that were previously unrated.

Nationwide, AP found more than 2,200 dams built upstream from homes or communities are in poor condition across the U.S. The actual number of high-hazard dams in poor or unsatisfactory condition is likely even higher than the AP's tally, although it's unclear because some states don't track such data and many federal agencies refuse to release that information.

The nation's dams are on average over a half-century old. They have come under renewed focus following extreme floods, such as the one that caused the failure of two Michigan dams and the evacuation of 10,000 people in 2020.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed last year by President Joe Biden will pump about $3 billion into dam-related projects, including hundreds of millions for state dam safety programs and repairs.

Yet it's still just a fraction of the nearly $76 billion needed to fix the tens of thousands of dams owned by individuals, companies, community associations, state and local governments, and other entities besides the federal government, according to a report by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.