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Official: Local reservoirs safe

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Post Independent/Kelley Cox
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A Colorado congressman’s efforts to obtain $200 million in dam safety funds come as welcome news to a man who oversees the inspections of the structures holding back water in the state’s reservoirs. Fortunately for area residents living below dams, none of the money being sought by U.S. Rep. John Salazar, D-Manassa, is urgently needed locally. Jack Byers, deputy state engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said that while Garfield County has high-hazard dams, none are operating under restrictions or have immediate safety concerns.High-hazard dams are ones that could cause significant loss of life or property damage if they failed.”It doesn’t dictate what is the likelihood of the dam failing, it is more how you have to manage these dams,” said Dave Merritt, chief engineer with the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs.High-hazard dams must undergo annual inspection in Colorado.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed Salazar’s dam repair bill early this month. It is expected to receive consideration by the full House after Congress returns from its August break.The bill would authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide grants for rehabilitation and repair of publicly owned dams. It would make $200 million available over five years for work on the nation’s aging dam infrastructure. States would have to provide 35 percent in matching funds.Byers praised the measure but also said the amount of money is relatively small compared to the need that exists.”It’s a very good first step, but it is a very limited first step,” he said.The important thing to do now is to develop criteria for using the funds so the limited amount of funding is put to the best use, Byers said.He believes Colorado has one of the better dam safety programs in the country. “The dam safety program in this state has worked well and continues to improve,” he said.

The state has about 193 dams with restrictions out of about 2,000 in total, he said. Those restrictions might include prohibiting a reservoir from being completely filled, or used to store any water at all.Most of the dams with restrictions are considered low-hazard, meaning problems with them wouldn’t endanger lives, he said.Locally, large dams such as the one at Rifle Gap are considered high-hazard. However, Merritt said much smaller dams also can be high-hazard, as in cases when they are located in narrow canyons.Salazar’s bill wouldn’t apply to privately owned dams. Nor would it pertain to federally owned ones, such as Ruedi Reservoir near Basalt, which the federal government maintains.Byers believes Salazar’s focus on dam safety is well-timed, given the recent, deadly collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis.”Quite frankly I think it’s appropriate to highlight that right now with the concerns we have with infrastructure,” he said.



In a prepared statement earlier this month, Salazar said he will continue to push for final passage of his measure, which he said has bipartisan support.”We cannot wait for our nation to suffer a catastrophic dam failure that takes life to address this serious issue,” he said.Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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