Michigan Legislature Unveils $500 million Plan to Repair Aging Dams

A year after historic flooding caused by aging dams,  the Michigan House and Senate have introduced a new plan to make dam repairs and improvements an even bigger priority at the state Capitol. The planned changes include $500 million in new funding for safety upgrades, dam repairs, restoring lake levels and replacements of aging facilities, along with stronger requirements increasing public involvement in future emergencies.

Gladwin County was the origin of the Edenville dam failure that caused widespread devastation in Gladwin and Midland Counties in 2020. Speaker of the House Jason Wentworth, who lives in Farwell and represents Gladwin County, helped put the plan together, alongside state Rep. Annette Glenn of Midland, state Rep. Roger Hauck of Union Township and others.

“This plan sets aside dedicated funds for our community and cuts through the bureaucracy to use them faster,” said Wentworth. “The people I talk to around here are concerned about something like this happening again and whether these old structures will ever really be fixed. I get it – there’s been a lot of talk and too little action. With these bills, we are going to lock the state into a real plan big enough to actually fix the problem and fast enough to start delivering results in our most vulnerable areas before it’s too late.”

The new plan creates four new, dedicated funds in the state budget, focused on the following priorities:

  1. One grant program for repairs identified by the Four Lakes Task Force and others around the state.
  2. One fund to focus on repairs to already-identified high-risk dams.
  3. An emergency fund for emergency response activities when disaster strikes.
  4. Another grant program focused on drawing down federal match dollars for aging dam rehab or removal statewide.

The plan also makes several policy reforms in state law, including several of the recommendations found in the Four Lakes Task Force report and elsewhere. Some of the changes would require dam owners to maintain strong safety and maintenance records, while also proving they have strong enough finances to handle potential problems.

“The people who suffered through the Edenville and Sanford flooding deserve peace of mind when it comes to the other dams and waterways in our area,” said Wentworth. “It is well past time we take the lessons we learned from these failures and turn them into solutions that will keep all of us safe for years to come. Every family in our community – including mine – is going to sleep better at night once we actually start fixing up these aging dams.”

The new legislation is planned for formal introduction in both the House and the Senate on Thursday. Committee hearings on the bills will be scheduled soon.

Congressman John Moolenaar has also introduced the Rural Disaster Support and Relief Act to increase federal cost-sharing assistance to communities of 50,000 or fewer residents after a federal disaster in 2020 or 2021. Moolenaar said the bill will help local governments affected by last year’s flooding save millions of dollars and ease the financial burden for communities and their residents. Moolenaar’s office said the legislation is another part of his efforts to help the recovery from last year’s widespread flooding.