By David Cuillier | June 28th, 2008
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to put American lives at risk by keeping dam inventory secret, even after the recent Midwest flooding. The Corps used to provide the National Inventory of Dams online for anyone to download and find out if they had a high hazard dam in their community, and when it was last inspected. But a few years ago the Corps took down the data and as a result citizens are left in the dark. During the recent floods journalists asked for the data but were denied, according to Investigative Reporters and Editors and a story by Editor & Publisher. The Corps claims the data include sensitive information that could jeopardize critical infrastructure if it were made public. Hooey. The Corps is actually making us LESS safe, putting American lives at risk.
Some years back I analyzed the National Inventory of Dams data and found an earthen dam in our county that had structural problems and would wipe out a small town if it gave way. Funding for infrastructure repairs is not exactly flowing nowadays, but the news coverage prompted money to fix the dam. In this country, problems exposed are problems fixed. A community on the island of Kauai in Hawaii wasn’t so lucky – in 2006 a dam burst, killing eight people (see CNN story).
Now, the Corps claims that the information needs to be secret to protect us from terrorists. Give us a break. I put “dam” in Google and the second entry is about Hoover Dam, including directions for the million visitors a year, and links to other dams, such as the nation’s largest concrete structure, Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state (which touts a nightly laser light show and nearby camping). Put “dam inventory” in Google and you’ll find lists of dams and their locations. If terrorists want to find a dam to blow up, it’s not too hard.
So the terrorists can find the dams to kill us, but we don’t have the information to protect us from our own failing infrastructure? That’s asinine. More likely the Corps wants to avoid scrutiny and public knowledge of its own problems. Journalists should demand the Corps make the information public again (specifically, Corps attorney Timothy L. Felker and congressional representatives). Tell readers about the danger our own government is putting us in. Save lives through FOI before it’s too late.