Ohio has always been a water-rich state. Access to our state’s many bodies of water attracted early settlers and supported generations of farmers and fishermen, manufacturers, and boaters. Today, our harbors and waterways contribute billions of dollars to our state’s economy, and Ohio’s harbors alone directly support more than 8,500 jobs. With our beautiful and plentiful lakes, rivers, and streams, it comes as no surprise that our water infrastructure matters. Passing the Water Resources Development Act which funds critical water infrastructure programs, like the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and the National Dam Safety Program, is a critical step.
We all know that the Great Lakes region is an invaluable resource – providing a source of water for countless households, generating economic activity for the region, and providing jobs through commerce, fishing, and tourism. That’s why – along with my Great Lakes colleagues – I’ve fought to preserve funding for dredging in the Great Lakes.
We simply cannot afford to delay harbor maintenance. If we don’t work to ensure Ohio harbors are kept open for shippers, then our steel mills, grain elevators, and aggregate terminals will suffer. We need to ensure that iron ore from Minnesota makes it to the steel mills along Lake Erie, and that grain grown in Western Ohio can be exported to the world through our Great Lakes ports. The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund provides the funding for the economically important work of dredging Ohio’s harbors so that they can help deliver products to the world.
But ensuring modern water infrastructure is about more than commerce – it’s also about protecting the public from unsafe dams. That’s why the National Dam Safety Program which brings the federal government, state agencies, and local stakeholders together to ensure dam safety is so important. Right now, Ohio’s aging water infrastructure includes more than 900 hazardous or potentially hazardous dams. Of these 900, more than 400 of the dams are designated as “high-hazard,” meaning that they could cause loss of life and/or significant damage to surrounding properties should they fail. More than 500 are designated as “significant-hazard,” meaning failure could result in economic loss, environmental damage, flooding of highways or railroads, or impact other concerns. Whether classified as a “high-hazard” or “significant-hazard,” neither is acceptable for our state. We must do everything we can to ensure that our dams are sound.
But unfortunately, among thousands of dams in our state, far too many lack a basic, emergency action plan (EAP). In other words, if a dam breaks and communities flood, families, and business owners would be ill-prepared for an emergency. We know that site-specific EAPs are useful in both identifying potential hazards and minimizing the likelihood that they occur. It just makes sense to ensure that all Ohio communities and homeowners located near dams are protected.
That’s why the Water Resources Development Act is so important to Ohio. This legislation includes critical resources for dam inspections and maintenance. First, it would help state and local emergency management agency’s create action plans. Next, it would identify potential hazards before an emergency involving dams and levees occurs. Finally, it would create an inundation map that shows which areas would be affected by dam failure.
Together, we can move forward and create safer communities. Passing the Water Resources Development Act will help ensure that Ohio water resources will continue to promote economic growth, create jobs, and serve our communities.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.