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Corps' aging hydroelectric infrastructure underfunded, new report says

A report from the National Research Council's Committee on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Water Resources, Engineering and Planning concludes that the federal government is underfunding hydropower projects.

The study, titled, "Corps of Engineers Water Resources Infrastructure: Deterioration, Investment, or Divestment?", focuses on the operation, maintenance and rehabilitation of Corps dams and hydropower-producing facilities.

The Corps is the federal government's largest producer of hydroelectricity, and about a quarter of the nation's hydropower capacity is Corps-owned.

However, the study shows that 90% of the Corps' hydroelectric projects are 30 years or more older, although funding for new project construction and major rehabilitation has declined steadily since the mid-1980s. The report also says more than 50% of the Corps' fleet of plants have exceeded the 50-year lives they were designed for, essentially giving the Corps several options for their continued operation:

  1. Business as usual. Accept degraded performance and the consequences of gradual or sudden failure of infrastructure components.
  2. Increase federal funding for operations, maintenance and rehabilitation.
  3. Divest or decommission parts of the Corps infrastructure to reduce operations, maintenance and rehabilitation obligations.
  4. Increase revenue from direct project beneficiaries for maintenance costs.
  5. Expand public-private partnerships for portions of existing infrastructure.
  6. Adopt some combination of options 2-5.

"More specific direction from the U.S. Congress regarding priority investments for Corps water infrastructure will be crucial to sustaining the agency's high priority and most valuable infrastructure," the report says. "The executive branch also could play a more aggressive role in promoting dialogue between the Corps and the Congress on existing infrastructure investments and priorities."

HydroWorld.com reported in October that the Corps' New Orleans District is seeking engineering services in its Mississippi Valley Division.

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