Potential Changes in Store for Dam Safety?

While the 2011 Virginia General Assembly considers numerous legislation to aid the Commonwealth moving forward, one bill introduced by Senator Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) proposes a rollback of the State’s current criteria for dams subject to State-regulated safety inspections. As proposed, the bill (SB 1060) would reduce the number of dams subject to regulation throughout the State by more than half. There is a certain level of irony that while over 1500 dams in the State have been identified as subject to inspection, less than 42% of those dams have certifications. The debate around this issue is not around the vast majority of high-hazard dams, but moreso over significant-hazard and low-hazard dams which would no longer be subject to inspection.

The bill is supported by certain local officials and private dam owners as they contend the cost associated with the plans are prohibitive. However, State officials as well as the American Council of Engineering Companies of Virginia  point out that the current standards are the same as those of other states, so reverting to standards used in Virginia in 2001 moves the Virginia Dam Safety Program requirements outside the criteria consistent with the National Dam Safety Act. One major difference between Virginia and other states cited in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article is that dam inspection staffing levels and the amount of funds available to dam owners in the form of grants and low interest loans in these states are much higher than those currently available in Virginia.

Is there a solution that provides for the general safety of  dams in Virginia while accounting for dam owners ability to pay for necessary inspections/improvements? We invite your thoughts.