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Watershed Rehabilitation Program (Rehab)

Local communities, with NRCS assistance, have constructed over 11,800 dams in 47 states since 1948. Many of these dams are nearing the end of their 50-year design life. Rehabilitation of these dams is needed to address critical public health and safety issues in these communities. The following information provides background and case studies of rehabilitation needs of watershed dams across the nation as well as progress toward rehabilitation accomplishments.

Latest News

USDA recently launched DamWatch, a new web-based application that provides real-time monitoring of rainfall, snowmelt, stream flow and seismic events that could pose potential threats to dam safety. Learn more.

Current State of Watershed Rehabilitation

USDA is investing $73 million to rehabilitate dams across the nation in an effort to protect public health and safety and evaluate the expansion of water supply in drought stricken areas.  USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is investing in approximately 150 projects and assessments in 23 states.

FY 2015 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table

With this new level of funding, the agency can now fund the implementation and completion of a project wholly and holistically as one which constitutes, planning, design and construction.

From 1998 through 2015, approximately 4,300 inventory dams reached or exceeded their 50 year design life. The estimated cost to rehabilitate these dams at today’s cost is nearly $19 Billion.  Many of the high hazard dams are located above areas with substantial populations as high as 21,000 people at risk for potential loss of life.

In addition to dam rehabilitation assistance, NRCS sustains a robust dam safety program. Currently, NRCS is developing geospatial dam monitoring tools to help with dam safety. NRCS GeoObserver for Dams will help NRCS engineers keep up-to-date information for the National Inventory of Dams. NRCS DamWatch will provide NRCS engineers and project sponsors with web-based monitoring of dams during rainfall, snowmelt, or seismic events.

Benefits of Watershed Rehabilitation

Dams provide benefits in water supply, irrigation, flood control, improving water quality, sediment control and energy, and this money will help ensure their stability for future generations.

In addition, these projects will enhance job creation in their local communities.

Watershed projects across the nation provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, and improved recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for an estimated 47 million Americans.

Watershed Rehabilitation and Drought

Last year, NRCS made changes to the watershed rehabilitation program to allow for projects that helped increase water supply. Half of this year’s dam assessments, including 15 in drought stricken California, will assess the feasibility of using watershed rehabilitation funds to mitigate drought.

Over 80 projects in the Planning stage can consider increasing water storage capacity when the dam is being rehabilitated, thereby bolstering resilience to climate change for their local communities.  Planning of these projects also sets the stage for Design and Construction, projected to protect the lives and property of more than 119,000 people.

NRCS and Project Sponsors

This funding approach serves both sponsors and government interests.  Sponsors are able to budget their finances to begin and complete the project, and the agency is able to report accomplishments and yield greater returns on investments since delaying and extending the implementation of a project costs both the agency and the sponsor financial resources.

A watershed plan is developed for each project that includes environmental impacts, costs and benefits, planned conservation practices and the responsibilities of involved parties. A variety of agencies and organizations can assist local project sponsors in plan development.

Watershed project sponsors represent local interest in federally assisted watershed projects. Sponsors request assistance from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and enter into agreements based upon a watershed plan.

The NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to watershed project sponsors in the planning and installation of flood control and other conservation measures in approved watershed projects.

Project sponsors agree to carry out specific parts of the project and are responsible for such things as:

  • Obtaining landrights,
  • Obtaining required permits,
  • Operation and maintenance activities,
  • Monitoring easement encroachment,
  • Meeting permitting requirements,
  • Developing and updating emergency action plans,
  • Conducting regular inspections of installed practices,
  • Working with regulatory agencies (dam safety agency, etc)

On average, sponsors complete the rehabilitation of 11 dams per year. The average cost to rehabilitate a structure at today’s costs is approximately $4.4 million each which includes planning, design, and construction.  NRCS anticipates this cost to increase in the coming years and estimates the cost to rehabilitate a dam to climb to $8.82 million each in five (5) years (2019). 

The combined funding requests received from sponsors this year totals more than $498M dollars, a significant increase in funding request from prior years which average around $35M.  Of all the requests received this year from the states, more than 150 projects will be funded through the Farm Bill. 

We attribute the sponsor’s increased response in submitting project funding requests to the higher level of Farm Bill funding and NRCS commitment to fund projects holistically as one project for planning, design and construction. 

2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Update

The 2014 Farm Bill made about $262 million available for rehabilitation of 151 dams in 26 states.  These watershed management projects provide an estimated $2.2 billion in annual benefits in reduced flooding and erosion damages, recreation, water supplies and wildlife habitat for roughly 47 million people. Projects were identified based on recent rehabilitation investments and the risks to life and property if a dam failure occurred.

FY 2014 Watershed Rehabilitation Projects Funding Table (PDF, 220 KB)

Overlay Weller at NCS


YouTube smallWatershed Rehabilitation Program Announcement Full Video (1:04:25, Chief Weller Introduction by Gary O’Neal, State Conservationist, Oklahoma, 16:00-25:20)

"Federal, state, and local dignitaries gathered at Perry Lake in Perry, Oklahoma to announce the upcoming national watershed rehabilitation program. This program, part of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, will fund the rehabilitation and repair of watershed dams throughout the nation.

The dam at Perry Lake was chosen as the site to make this national announcement because it is one of the first structures that will be rehabilitated as part of this program. It is part of the Upper Black Bear Creek Watershed system and helps to protect the City of Perry and Interstate 35 from potential flood events.” – City of Perry, Oklahoma

Additional Reports

The following documents require Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Watershed Rehabilitation Progress Report, March 2015 (PDF, 447 KB)
Watershed Rehabilitation Status Summary Report, March 2015 (PDF, 323 KB)
Watershed Rehabilitation Progress Report, January 2013 (PDF, 491 KB)
Watershed Rehabilitation Status Summary Report, January 2013 (PDF, 230 KB)

Fact Sheets
Caney Coon Watershed Dam No.2M OK (PDF, 459 KB)
Little Sandy Trail Creek Dam No.1 GA (PDF, 465 KB)
New Creek 14 WV (PDF, 461 KB)
Plum Creek 5 TX (PDF, 409 KB)
Pohick Creek Dam 2 VA (PDF, 444 KB)
Poteau River 5 Rehab. AR (PDF, 490 KB)
Sallisaw Creek Watershed Dam No. 26 OK (PDF, 401 KB)
South River Dam 10A VA (PDF, 478 KB)
Su-AS-CO Nichols Dam Ma301 Rehab. MA (PDF, 427 KB)
Switzler Creek Dam 7 KS (PDF, 446 KB)


Martinez Creek Dam No. 5 was built in 1964 for flood control and protection of agricultural land.

Pohick Watershed Dam No. 3

Martinez Creek Dam No. 5, Bexar County, Texas

Pohick Creek Watershed Dam No. 3,
Fairfax County, Virginia

Yellow River Watershed Dam No. 14 Gwinnett County, Georgia Sugar Creek Watershed Dam No. L- 44 Caddo County, Oklahoma

Yellow River Watershed Dam No. 14,
Gwinnett County, Georgia

Sugar Creek Watershed Dam No. L- 44,
Caddo County, Oklahoma


Watershed Rehabilitation Links

National Watershed Coalition                                                         

Leaving NRCS