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Environment

Washington plans to raise fees for dam inspections

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Washington Dept. of Ecology
A Dam breach piping failure in Walla Walla County.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Northwest is known for its big hydroelectric dams. But across the region there are also hundreds of smaller non-hydro dams. Some of them hold back water, but others retain dairy waste or sewage.

In Washington, the operators of these structures could soon pay more in annual fees to cover the cost of inspections.

Ben Bonkowski runs the state’s dam safety program. He says there are 380 "high hazard" dams in Washington that, if breached, could unleash catastrophe.

"The worst case scenario is we want to head off -- a failure of a dam that would result in the folks downstream losing their lives," Bonkowski says. "And secondarily we want to protect property as well."

Bonkowski says current inspection fees cover less than 20 percent of the cost to run Washington's dam safety program.

So now the Department of Ecology is proposing what could amount to a 40 percent hike in dam inspection fees. The move follows legislative approval earlier this year.

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Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network