Sanders, Leahy, Welch Applaud Dam-Repair Funding for Vermont

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) announced that legislation passed by Congress last night will fund critical water infrastructure projects, including three aging flood-control dams. 

The Vermont delegation also announced that the state of Vermont has signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make much-needed repairs to the Waterbury Dam. The project will begin in early 2021, using $40 million in federal funding secured by the delegation.

The America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020, to be signed into law today, includes language first authored by Senator Sanders in 2016 in the Water Resources Development Act. This year, the amendment authored by Sanders in the Senate and Welch in the House increases the authorization of federal funding to $60 million each for safety improvements at certain state-owned flood control dams constructed by the federal government before 1940. In Vermont, three dams – the Waterbury, East Barre and Wrightsville dams – are eligible to receive funding under this provision.

“These dams are essential pieces of Vermont’s infrastructure,” said Sanders, who is a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the water infrastructure legislation. “Maintaining and repairing the dams – especially the Waterbury Dam – has long been a priority for our state. This bipartisan legislation is an important step toward rebuilding aging dams in Vermont and throughout the United States.”

Leahy, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said:  “I have been proud to secure funding for the Waterbury Dam through the appropriations process, and I’m pleased to see the increased spending authorized by this legislation at the request of Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch. Those funds may be very helpful if the cost exceeds the $40 million already appropriated for work on this critical project, and funds may also be needed for work to the other eligible Vermont dams.” 

“I was proud to secure federal support to allow the state to begin this important, but expensive, safety and infrastructure project,” said Welch, who secured authorization language in the House. “With these funds, the state of Vermont will be able to complete these critical repairs with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is a perfect example of a local project that deserves federal support to protect public safety, improve environmental quality, and enhance recreational opportunities in the area for years to come.”

“The Waterbury Dam Spillway Refurbishment project is a major public safety and environmental restoration priority for Vermont,” said Peter Walke, Commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation. “We are grateful for the support of Vermont’s Congressional Delegation for securing a $40M federal appropriation for the project, and to the US Army Corps of Engineers for supporting this project at the national and local level. My team will be working in tight coordination with the Army Corps to get this project started early in 2021.”

The federal government built the Waterbury, East Barre and Wrightsville dams in the 1930s after the devastating 1927 flood caused massive destruction and loss of life in the Winooski River basin from Central Vermont to Burlington. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers designed, and the Civilian Construction Corps built, the three flood-control dams on tributaries of the Winooski River to reduce the risk of future flooding. The federal government later transferred ownership of the dams to the state of Vermont, but did not include any provisions for the maintenance of the dams. The Waterbury Dam, in particular, now has major repair needs, due to this lack of support from the federal government.

The Vermont Congressional delegation remains committed to passing aggressive water infrastructure funding next year, including critical provisions to improve drinking water, which was passed this year by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.