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Statement About Signing a Bill Providing for a National Safety Inspection Program for Dams

August 09, 1972

I HAVE signed into law H.R. 15951, a bill which requires the Secretary of the Army, through the Corps of Engineers, to initiate a program of safety inspections for dams throughout the United States.

Under this legislation, the Secretary of the Army is to report to the Congress on his progress on or before July 1, 1974. The report is to include an inventory of all dams, a description of inspection activities undertaken, and recommendations for a national program of dam inspections and for the proper allocation of responsibilities between Federal, State, and local governments as well as public and private interests.

The objective of this bill--to reduce the risk of dam failures--is highly desirable, as we have learned from painful experience. I think the particulars of this bill are most unfortunate, however, for they depart from the sound principle that the safety of non-Federal dams should primarily rest with the States.

This bill is also marred because it was enacted hastily, without benefit of committee hearings, advice from the concerned agencies of the executive branch, or comments by the affected States. As a result, the bill ignores the fact that some States are already conducting effective safety programs. More than 28,000 dams may be involved, but the bill fails to establish any inspection priorities. And the cost of the program may run as high as $100 million.

Nevertheless, I have approved the recommendation of the Secretary of the Army that the Corps of Engineers begin the activities specified in the bill. His recommended program contemplates an inventory of all non-Federal dams along with inspections necessary to define the scope of the problem and to identify those dams which may pose a serious threat to life and property. Under such a program, "the Congress would have an opportunity to reexamine the entire situation based on the first 2 years of reliable experience," to use the words of the House Public Works Committee.

Finally, I have directed the Secretary to seek the greatest possible degree of State participation under this legislation. This will have the particular advantage of utilizing the experience of those States which have effective dam safety programs.

Note: As enacted, H.R. 15951, approved August 7, 1972, is Public Law 92-367 (86 Stat. 506).

Richard Nixon, Statement About Signing a Bill Providing for a National Safety Inspection Program for Dams Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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