Dams, locks and levees on waterways in the Northwest and across the nation are in bad shape, according to a new government report by a national panel of engineers and scientists.
The report says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had an inadequate maintenance budget for so long that it now faces an "unsustainable situation" to keep up with repairs.
Dams make news in Oregon for their hydropower output and effects on migrating salmon. But Sam Mace, Inland Northwest director for the group Save Our Wild Salmon, says transportation, flood control and public safety also are critical issues that will make for some tough decisions.
"If we can't come up with that money, what are we going to do?" Mace said. "Because just allowing these projects to age and have continual problems is just putting the public at risk. It's putting our local towns at risk, and it's putting our economy at risk."
The report suggests that the government investigate private partnerships to help operate and maintain some of the nation's water infrastructure, even selling or decommissioning parts of it.
Mace thinks it may be time for the same kind of roundtable discussion Gov. John Kitzhaber is suggesting for salmon recovery.
"It made me look at this report and say, 'Wow, we need a similar kind of process, looking at all options on the table of how we're going to address this aging infrastructure, and bringing stakeholders together to look at those options and find solutions,'" he said.
The report says the Corps sets priorities and performs maintenance, but adds that no clear chain of responsibility exists between the Corps, Congress and the Office of Management and Budget. It says the result is delays, with the Corps often waiting for Congress to make decisions.
The report is online at nap.edu.
Chris Thomas of Oregon News Service prepared this report.