WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY), praised the committee’s passage of S. 2717, the Dam Repairs and Improvements for Tribes Act of 2016 (DRIFT Act).
The bill was introduced by Barrasso and cosponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). It would address the deferred maintenance needs of Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) dams, and reform tribal programs within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that focus on flood mitigation and prevention in Native communities.
The bill will now go before the full Senate for consideration.
“This is a serious public safety issue, as many dam systems across Indian Country are in desperate need of repairs and maintenance,” said Chairman Barrasso. “The DRIFT Act will hold Washington accountable to maintain these dams, and will keep promises made to tribes. I am grateful to the committee for passing this bill so quickly, and I will work with my colleagues to move it through the full Senate soon.”
The DRIFT Act will address the backlog of Indian dam-maintenance needs and improve flood prevention by instructing the secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the secretary of the Army, to:
· Establish a High-Hazard Indian Dam Safety Deferred Maintenance Fund that would receive $22,750,000 each year from Fiscal Years 2017 through 2037;
· Establish a Low-Hazard Indian Dam Safety Deferred Maintenance Fund which would receive $10,000,000 each year for the same time period;
· Designate criteria for how the funds would be prioritized;
· Reform the Army Corps’ Tribal Partnership Program to allow the corps to pay for any feasibility study for a project costing less than $10,000,000;
· Conduct a three-year pilot program for a BIA flood mitigation program for tribes; and
· Create a Tribal Safety of Dams Committee within the Department of the Interior to make recommendations to Congress for modernizing the Indian Dam Safety Act.
The BIA is responsible for 137 high-hazard dams and more than 700 low-hazard dams across the United States. The majority of high-hazard dams are in western states. According to the BIA, on average, they are 70 to 80 years old and have more than $556 million in deferred maintenance needs. The BIA has testified that many of these dams present risks that exceed the tolerable-risk guidelines established by the federal dam safety community.
Two of the high-hazard dams are located on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming – the Washakie Dam and Ray Lake Dam.
Chairman Barrasso introduced the DRIFT Act on March 17, 2016.
The SCIA held a legislative hearing on the DRIFT Act on April 13, 2016. In his written testimony at the hearing, BIA Director Mike Black testified: “The BIA Safety of Dams Program is in the process of conducting a review of the security measures in place at all high- and significant-hazard potential dams in the program. Security reviews have resulted in many recommendations to increase or modify the existing security measures based on analysis of the risk, vulnerability, and consequences at each dam. Funding provided by this act would allow the program to implement these recommended security measures at the highest-risk dams, further protecting the Indian communities downstream of these dams.”