Dams and Levees: What You Don't Know Might Kill You

October 23, 2013

Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens are at risk from potential dam disasters, yet state and federal agencies hold to a policy that amounts to "out of sight, out of mind."

The biggest danger, apparently, is that the public might find out about the dangers, and criticize insufficient dam safety measures, inconvenience private dam owners, depress real estate values, or demand public spending that is politically painful for those in office. Their chosen solution: whip up fear of terrorism, impose secrecy, and do very little.

If you live downstream of a dam whose failure might kill you or destroy your home, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (a lead agency on dam safety) will not let you know that fact. Even though the information is already in the public domain by other means, the Corps has blacked out such hazard ratings from its National Inventory of Dams. Many state agencies also withhold the information.

This article showcases some recent efforts by journalists to highlight dam safety issues — and the obstacles of government secrecy which have stood in their way.

To read more of "Dams and Levees: What You Don't Know Might Kill You," click here.


This article is part of the October 23, 2013 special issue of the WatchDog on the transparency of safety information related to dams, levees, impoundments, and related water-control structures.