Utah will get $7.2M in federal funds for its aging dams. That’s only enough for 1 repair.

The funding comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Utah has netted millions in federal funding to rehabilitate dams across the state — but the money could only fully upgrade a single dam.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday allocated $7.2 million to Utah to improve high-hazard dams, which, according to the Utah Division of Water Resources, are dams that would result in deaths if they failed. The average cost to upgrade a dam is $4.5 million.

“Aging dam infrastructure and the requirement to meet the minimum dam safety standards make this initial award a welcome sight,” said Candice Hasenyager, director of the Division of Water Resources. “Dam improvements are imperative to the safety of Utahns, and they are also costly.”

The Utah Division of Water Rights’ Dam Safety Office prioritizes the high-hazard dams in the state that are not meeting minimum dam safety standards, Hasenyager said. Right now, out of the 200 high-hazard dams in Utah, half fall short of those specifications.

Hasenyager reported that her division will work with the Division of Water Rights to decide where to send the funding.

“We have a long way to go to ensure that our dams are all brought up to minimum dam safety standards,” she continued.

As Utah’s population has grown, more people have settled downstream of high-hazard dams. The risk of living below these structures was exemplified in April, when the Panguitch Lake Dam threatened to buckle, putting thousands at risk.

Thanks to a prompt emergency response, evacuation wasn’t necessary. But the brief crisis shed light on the state of Utah’s dams and how a lack of funding could have disastrous consequences.

“This funding will be put to great use in helping address the minimum safety standards on dams across the state,” said Utah State Engineer Teresa Wilhelmsen. “We work directly with dam owners to perform annual inspections, to provide consulting, and to oversee repairs, maintenance and construction. Funding for dam safety is always a top concern for everyone involved.”

The recent federal funding bolsters the state’s annual dam safety funding of $3.8 million, but it isn’t enough to make a transformative change.

“We have roughly about 100 high-hazard dams that still need to be upgraded and at the current funding level,” Hasenyager said to the Legislature in January, “it’s going to take about 100 years.”

Utah’s Division of Water Resources and Division of Water Rights are responsible for identifying and rehabilitating dams statewide.