The Associated Press
Created: February 13, 2020 08:01 AM
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A plan to spend $100 million to fix dams throughout New Mexico — a state with the highest percentage of high-hazard dams in the country — passed its first test Tuesday amid an urgent call to upgrade the facilities over worries about the loss of life.
The New Mexico Senate Conservation Committee voted 9-0 to move along a measure that would add funding to address the state’s dam infrastructure that advocates say is in dire need of repairs.
Sen. Pete Campos, D-Las Vegas, said the state had no choice but to get started soon on fixing dams or risk a tragedy in the future.
“This issue continues to come forward as an urgent matter,” Campos said. “We don’t want a loss of life and property.”
Campos said the $100 million request would only cover around a third of the cost of fixing the state’s dams.
Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, said the state should spend the money to fix is dams while it has revenue from an oil and gas windfall. “We may not have the money later,” Soules said.
A more than two-year investigation by The Associated Press recently revealed that New Mexico leads the nation with the highest percentage of high-hazard dams that are in either poor or unsatisfactory condition. Some are decades-old and on the list because they lack design and construction documents that would provide more certainty about their ability to handle runoff from a historic storm. Many also lack emergency action plans in case of a failure.
Dona Ana County is home to one-third of the 97 dams in New Mexico that are considered high hazard because of the potential for loss of life if they failed and have been determined to be in poor or unsatisfactory condition.
According to the Office of the State Engineer, its Dam Safety Bureau regulates 298 dams in the state. Around 150 of those dams are publicly owned and have the potential to cause loss of life in the event of a dam failure, the agency said.
Nearly 70 of these publicly-owned dams have known deficiencies, with a total estimated rehabilitation cost of more than $300 million.
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