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Funds lacking for dam repair

Eight of the 10 small-watershed dams in West Virginia deemed to be at-risk for failure are located in the Northern Panhandle, as we reported recently.

State officials emphasize the risk rating system does not mean every dam listed is about to fail.

The ratings are based on the number of people downstream of the impoundments, not necessarily the dams’ condition. Still, many dams in West Virginia are in need of repair.

In 2016, Congress recognized that many states have numerous dams in poor condition — and cannot afford to make repairs. A bill enacted that year established the “Rehabilitation of High Hazard Dams” program to take care of that.

At long last, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been given money to begin repairing dams throughout the country. West Virginia has been awarded money through the initiative.

FEMA will be giving our state — wait for it — a whopping $277,019.

Pardon our sarcasm.

That amount, to be handed out by the state Department of Environmental Protection, may be enough to make minimal repairs to three or four dams. Our guess is that spending that much will not even compensate for a year’s worth of normal deterioration.

Don’t blame FEMA, however. The agency was given just $10 million for high-hazard dams this year. That will not make a dent in the problem.

Either deteriorated dams are a problem or they are not. West Virginia officials understand they certainly are. We suspect there is similar concern in many other states.

Congress is very good at enacting legislation intended to address problems — but not so good at providing adequate funding for remedies. We realize the federal budget is stretched tight as it is, but, again, either hazardous dams are a real worry or they are not, in the minds of federal officials.

If there is concern, it needs to be matched by a realistic funding approach.

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