Federal grants go toward repairing two Washington dams

Our Dam Safety Office regulates 1,055 dams in Washington. Many of those are doing just fine, but 409 pose a potential risk to people living and working below.

Outlet pipe broken and submerged at Newcastle Railroad Embankment Dam
Outlet pipe broken and submerged at Newcastle
Railroad Embankment Dam

Unfortunately, there’s no reality tv show that renovates dams, and most owners are left to cover repair costs themselves. So, we were excited to hear this week that we received $153,007 in grant funding to assist two dam owners in repairing their dams. 

The funds are part of a new grant program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA had $10 million to provide assistance for planning and other pre-construction activities such as data collection, design and permitting. We applied for funds to assist three dam owners, and two of these were accepted. 

The funds will be split evenly between the city of Aberdeen to work on slope stability issues at their Fairview Reservoir #1 and the city of Newcastle to stabilize and remove the Newcastle Railroad Embankment Dam. For the next year, both owners will use dam engineer consultants to collect and analyze data and develop solutions and designs.

“Through our inspection program, we identified both of these projects as being in poor condition and needing engineer assessments and repairs,” said Joe Witczak, Ecology’s Dam Safety Office manager. “This is the first year this grant funding was available and we intend to apply again next year in support of other high hazard dams in need of repair.” 

Three safety inspectors wearing safety vests checking out the situation at at Fairview Reservoir #1

Ecology dam safety inspectors at Fairview Reservoir #1


In addition to the funds that Ecology was awarded, the dam owners must provide a 35 percent match. 

In Washington, a dam owner (such as private, local government or public utilities) is legally responsible to safely maintain, repair and operate their dam. The Dam Safety Office helps to ensure dams are properly designed and constructed. We also inspect existing dams for proper operation and maintenance. 

There are an additional 134 dams in the state that are owned and/or regulated by federal agencies.

By Keeley Belva, Water Resources Program communications manager