Lower Snake River Waterway

Looking to the Future: New report challenges the Northwest’s aging dam infrastructure.

By Sam Mace

blog 120131 Port of Lewiston 3There is no way to ignore it. As in the rest of the United States, the Northwest’s system of dams and associated infrastructure is aging, and some is outdated. With fewer taxpayer dollars available, and with users of the system reluctant or unable to pay more, how do we decide what parts to invest in, to fix and maintain?

This month the National Research Council released a stark assessment of the state of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ nationwide dams and navigation infrastructure. Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment or Divestment? was prepared at the Corps’ request. It concludes that the Corps’ dam and navigation systems face a maintenance and repair backlog reaching tens of billions of dollars, with no realistic way to pay for all or even most of it. The report recommends setting priorities now – what should get repaired and modernized, and what shouldn’t – as well as finding more funds from states, communities and users to make up at least part of the federal shrinkage. As Corps projects age and degrade - risking communities, users, and even lives - Americans are forced into choices.

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