U.S. infrastructure is in bad shape. Across the country, streets marred with
potholes, overcrowded airports, and out-of-date school facilities have become
the norm. But the United States’ failing infrastructure causes more than just
commonplace inconveniences. Crumbling infrastructure poses real dangers to
Americans’ health and safety, as illustrated by the contaminated water system in
Flint, Michigan; flooding due to poor storm water drainage systems in Texas and
Louisiana; the failing metro system in Washington, D.C.; and blackouts caused by
extreme weather and outdated electrical grids in cities across the country.
A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, quantifies
how the United States’ chronic underinvestment in infrastructure—spending only
half of what is needed—has created an investment gap that affects the economy,
safety, jobs, communities, and health. As infrastructure continues to age without
proper investment and upkeep, the costs to maintain and repair it continue to rise
over time. The report found that if infrastructure deficiencies are not addressed, it
could cost the economy almost $4 trillion in gross domestic product, or GDP, and
2.5 million jobs by 2025.
In short, policymakers’ short-term cost cuts will cause
massive expenses in the long term.
The country’s dam infrastructure is not exempt from this underinvestment. With
an ASCE grade of a D, the country’s nearly two million dams are one of the most
pressing infrastructure challenges for safety, the environment, and the economy.
While most of these dams were originally built for economic purposes—includ
ing to power mills and factories developed during the industrial revolution and for
flood and debris control, water storage and irrigation, hydropower, navigation, and
recreation—many of their original purposes and benefits have diminished. In fact,
many dams are now obsolete, costly, aging, and unsafe.