Dam safety is a topic of critical importance. Dam failures can cause death and destruction on a devastating scale. Even if they do not take human lives, they can cause evacuations, damage property, and knock out local industries that rely on steady water supplies, not to mention cost millions of dollars in repairs. 

In our cover story, we interview Dean Sawyer, the mayor of Newport, Oregon, which relies for its water supplies on two dams that suffer from seepage and are at risk of catastrophic failure in the case of a significant earthquake. Mr. Sawyer tell us about the urgency of finding funding to replace Newport’s dams before a disaster occurs. 

We also have the honor of featuring an article by United States Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon on Congress’s role in funding water infrastructure and recent legislation like the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. 

From the area around Newport, we feature Adam Denlinger, the general manager of Seal Rock Water District, and Alan Fujishin, a farmer from the Siletz Valley, both coconveners of the Mid-Coast Water Planning Partnership, a pilot place-based planning body. Mr. Dengliner tells us about developing a new water source for SRWD and about the importance of his system’s intertie with that of the City of Newport. Mr. Fujishin delves into the history and purpose of the Mid-Coast Water Planning Partnership, formed to implement Oregon’s Integrated Water Resources Strategy in the hydrologically complex mid-coast region of Oregon. 

Providing the state-level perspective, Racquel Rancier of the Oregon Water Resources Department tell us about the agency’s efforts to modernize Oregon’s dam safety statutes and inspect high- and significant-hazard dams. 

On the national level, Lori Spragens, the executive director of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, tells us about her organization’s efforts to aid and advocate for the 50 states’ dam safety programs. 

Finally, we zoom in on one particularly striking case study of dam failure: the Oroville Dam spillway collapse of 2017. Personnel from HDR were present as the incident progressed and were involved in the response and reconstruction. We speak with two of them, Sam Planck and Kenny Dosanjh, about what HDR learned from the incident and how it is helping other dam owners and managers improve their spillway maintenance and management to avoid future disasters. 

Ensuring dam safety is a responsibility that is incumbent on local, state, and national officials alike. Only by working together will they be able to marshal the resources and determination to make sure that these great water storage and delivery structures can operate safely for decades to come. 

Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Municipal Water Leader magazine and president and CEO of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at kris.polly@waterstrategies.com.