Thanks to emergency preparedness and quick action by local andstate officials, it appears that the Oroville Dam crisis has been averted, butcommunities across the country should consider this incident awake-up call.

The Sacramento Bee reports that the flood-controlmanual for the Oroville Dam hadn’t been updated in nearly half acentury and applied obsolete weather models. Experts say thatstructural failures were responsible for the crisis; however, thisoutdated document indicates that maintaining the dam likely wasn’tthe biggest priority for local officials in Oroville. And they’renot alone.

Failing grade for dams in the U.S.

The 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure issuedby the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the 90,580dams in the U.S. a failing letter grade of a D. The report foundthat the average age of dams in the country is 56 years old. By2025, 70 percent of dams will be at least 50 years old.

Although many dams were built to protect areas of undevelopedagricultural land, increases in population and development havecaused dams to age exponentially. According to the ASCE, nearly athird of all dams in the U.S. pose serious risks to theircommunities. In 2016, the number of high-hazard dams — thosewith the potential for the loss of human life — had grown to15,500. Another 11,882 dams are classified as a “significanthazard,” meaning their failure would cause economic losses but notnecessarily loss of life. At least 2,170 dams qualify as bothhigh-hazard and deficient.

Part of the country’s aginginfrastructure

Dams are active systems that, like a road or a bridge, need to bemaintained, or they’ll fall into a dangerous state of disrepair.Given that the average age of a dam that fails is 62 years, many ofour nation’s dams have an increasing likelihood of failing withinthe next decade if immediate preventative measures are not taken.Furthermore, the engineering and construction standards availablewhen many of these dams were built don’t stand up to the increasedprevalence of floods and earthquakes.

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