MONTPELIER — Sen. Patrick Leahy announced this week that the Senate Appropriations Committee approved $20 million to repair certain high-risk dams, including the Waterbury Dam.
Leahy, who lives in nearby Middlesex, said in a statement that money is part of the Senate’s annual Energy and Water Appropriations bill. It is not clear how much funding the Vermont project would receive.
The money is not a done deal, however.
While the bill was unanimously reported by the committee on Thursday, it must be approved by the full Congress and signed into law by President Trump.
The repair is critical to central Vermont, not just because of its functionality, but also as the secondary role it plays for recreational activities, which are an economic driver for much of the region.
“The Waterbury Dam and the Waterbury Reservoir draw people from around Vermont and around the country to appreciate our Green Mountain State,” the senior senator noted in his statement. “Tropical Storm Irene once again proved how crucial the Waterbury Dam is to the safety and resilience of the surrounding towns. I am glad the Committee has supported my effort to once again provide the Army Corps of Engineers with the funds it needs to make much-needed repairs to this important piece of Vermont’s infrastructure.”
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders crafted language authorizing work to repair these high risk dams, including Waterbury, in the Water Resources Development Acts of 2016, and worked to further expand that funding authority with authorizing legislation adopted in 2018. Leahy, a Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, built on Sanders’ authorizing work by securing the actual funding to accomplish the work through the appropriations process.
The $20 million included the Fiscal Year 2020 Energy and Water Appropriations bill will support a total of four eligible dams, including Waterbury Dam, that were built by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The concerns about the dam have been growing for years.
Starting in 1981, concerns over the safety of the Waterbury Dam have resulted in several repairs over the decades until now. Constructed in 1938 to manage flooding in the Winooski River Basin, the 81-year-old dam far surpasses the average 56-year-old age of dams nationwide.
Leahy stated that the funds, if approved, will help to ensure the structural integrity and safety of the dam into the future. Design and construction of the repairs are expected to take place over several years.
The dam’s resulting reservoir, the 850-acre Waterbury Reservoir, is home to two state parks and draws thousands of visitors from the region, as well as out of state.