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U.S. dam infrastructure is failing. The dams within the United States have an average age of 57 years. By 2025, 73% of dams in the NID will be over 50 years old. (Photo: Belinda Pretorius/stock.adobe.com)

The Brazilian mining company Vale recently agreed to pay $7 billion to the state of Minas Gerais. This settlement did not include other pending charges against Vale tied to a horrific incident that killed 270 people and gave a real-life example of the massive consequences of a dam failure.

Dams, dikes and levees are an integral part of urban infrastructure in the United States and abroad. Dams are often used for electrical generation (hydropower), agricultural purposes, water storage and flood control. In addition, dams are also used to store hazardous materials which include oil products, mining byproducts and other waste substances. Many people may first visualize the Hoover Dam or other large concrete and steel structures that control the flow of rivers. However, most of the dams in the United States are earthen embankment dams, which simply consist of piled and compacted soil that is used to retain the water. While many dams are federally owned or built, over half of the dams within the United States are privately owned and most consist of smaller earthen embankments.

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