A picture of Senator Ron Wyden
Ron W.
Democrat OR

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Ron Wyden

    Posted on 2014-01-16

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    WYDEN (for himself, Mr. Schatz, and Mrs. Feinstein): S. 1946. A bill to amend the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978 to modify the authorization of appropriations; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

    Mr. WYDEN. Mr. President, today I rise to introduce a bill to protect valuable water resource infrastructure across the West. I am pleased to be joined by Senators Schatz and Feinstein who share my concern for dam safety. The Bureau of Reclamation's Dam Safety Program is not a new program, but it is vital for farmers, local economies, and communities in 17 Western States. Because the Safety of Dams, SOD Program is running out of money, it is essential that Congress extend the program and allow projects to proceed by permanently authorizing the funding needed.

    The SOD Program has a straightforward mission: ``to ensure that Reclamation facilities do not present unreasonable risks to the public, public safety, property, and/or the environment.'' The challenge of meeting that mission is complicated by the strains of aging infrastructure and population growth within dam failure zones. Reclamation manages 476 dams and dikes, 370 of which are listed within the high or significant hazard class, meaning failure of the dam or dike would cause life loss or significant damages. Once Reclamation begins risk modifications to a dam, the local partners share 15 percent of the associated costs. Since the creation of the SOD Program, Congress has seen fit to raise the program's authorized ceiling four times--in 1984, 2000, and 2002. Twelve years later, it is time to keep this program going once more before we hit the ceiling.

    My bill would do away with the authorization ceiling and permanently authorize this important program. No longer would the ceiling be a hindrance on advancing dam safety. A project in my home State helps to illustrate the problem. Scoggins Dam is located in Washington County, OR. The dam forms the heart of the water system in the Tualatin Basin, providing drinking water to residents, irrigation for valuable croplands, and support for nearly a quarter million jobs. The risk to Scoggins Dam comes from its position within the Cascade subduction zone, where a typical earthquake has a magnitude of 8.7 to 9.2. As the first U.S. Senator to visit Fukushima after its [[Page S445]] devastating subduction zone earthquake and resulting tsunami, I saw firsthand the incredible damage a seismic event can have on a region and its infrastructure.

    The Bureau of Reclamation is already well into the process of risk assessment on Scoggins Dam, and the current SOD Program ceiling poses a significant obstacle to advancing the project to concrete risk- mitigation actions. Reclamation has evaluated Scoggins Dam and predicted that an earthquake could cause spill wall failure and potential embankment failure due to deformation, overtopping, or erosion through cracks. Reclamation completed the correction action study for Scoggins in late 2012; however, no modifications can proceed until there is room in the SOD Program budget. The uncertainty around fixing this Federal facility is taking a toll on economic development at a time when pivotal Oregon companies like Intel and Nike are undertaking expansions in Washington County. Scoggins Dam joins a list of other dam projects on the near horizon that won't be able to proceed without this bill.

    Ensuring that dams continue to provide the benefits they do across the West in a safe manner is an important responsibility. I want to express my thanks to the Tualatin Basin Water Supply Partners for their diligent work to see that safety modifications are made for the public's benefit and to meet the region's long-run water needs. I look forward to working with Senator Schatz, Senator Feinstein, and other colleagues and the bill's other supporters to continue the work of the SOD Program.

    ______ By Mr. SANDERS: S. 1950. A bill to improve the provision of medical services and benefits to veterans, and for other purposes; read the first time.

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