AP reveals problematic dams in US, but NJ picture is unclear

November 10, 2019 GMT

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A more than two-year investigation by The Associated Press identified scores of problematic dams nationwide, but New Jersey is excluded from the analysis because the state did not fully respond to the records requests.

The investigation identified at least 1,680 dams in the U.S. that are rated as high-hazard because of the potential for loss of life if they failed and are considered to be in poor or unsatisfactory condition.

New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Bureau of Dam Safety, provided the AP with some data that it submitted to a national dam inventory, but did not include hazard classifications or the condition ratings for its dams. It also denied later requests for inspection reports and emergency action plans, citing security concerns.


The bureau reviews plans for new dams or the repair and removal of old ones. Existing dams must be inspected periodically, according to the bureau, and regulations require dam owners to have an engineer regularly inspect their structures.

Emergency plans obtained by the AP indicate that thousands of people across the country who live or work downstream from certain dams could be at risk if those dams were to catastrophically fail, while separate inspection reports cite a variety of problems.

Those include leaks that can indicate a dam is failing internally, unrepaired erosion, holes from burrowing animals and extensive tree growth, which can destabilize earthen dams. In some cases, inspectors also flagged spillways that are too small to handle the amount of water that could result from increasingly intense rainstorms due to a changing climate.

The AP’s investigation covers the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico but excludes five states that did not fully comply with records requests. In addition to New Jersey, they are Alabama, Illinois, Maryland and Texas.

New Jersey’s Bureau of Dam Safety lists a handful of storms that resulted in dam damage over the years, including Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. That year, six dams failed after heavy rainfall and 51 were damaged. Hundreds of roads were closed, and 2,080 homes were damaged.