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Civil Engineer Says Now’s The Time To Be Proactive About Updating Texas Infrastructure

a large dam releasing water
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
A highland lakes dam near Lake Travis releases water during 2018 floods in Central Texas.

From Texas Standard:

The Texas deep freeze last week revealed major weaknesses in the state’s electrical grid. But when it comes to updating the state’s infrastructure overall, electrical power is just one area in need of change.

The American Society of Civil Engineers recently released preliminary results from its 2021 Texas Infrastructure Report Card with recommendations for what lawmakers should focus on fixing during this year’s legislative session.

Civil engineer Augustine Verrengia told Texas Standard that much of the state’s infrastructure scored poorly. Verrengia is government affairs chairman for the Texas chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He says wastewater infrastructure scored a D, dams a D+, levees a D and roads and highways D+. Addressing problems with infrastructure matters, he says, because they affect Texans’ everyday lives.

“I think that most people can connect to the idea that if you take a bridge to work and it only takes you 30 minutes to get to work but then that bridge is taken out of service, [and] even if it doesn’t fail, even if somebody realizes that it may potentially fail, it may add an hour and a half to your commute every day,” he said. “The impacts of that to people are very real.”

The impacts can also be life-threatening. He says the No. 1 item that needs updating is the state’s wastewater system. Not fixing it could lead to contamination of fragile freshwater resources, which are going to become even more fragile as additional people flock from out of state to live here.

But other items are also in serious need of repair. Dams, for example, could put thousands of people at risk if they fail. The oldest in Texas is 170 years old. And out of the state’s 7,000 dams, Verrengia says 3,000 are exempt from safety requirements, based on Texas’ water code. He estimates fixing them will be costly – over $5 billion – but says those fixes and added safety measures are necessary.

“We believe that Texas should require mandatory safety inspections and come up with public evacuation plans for areas that are protected by dams due to the potential for catastrophic failure and loss of life,” he said.

Verrengia says now is the time for lawmakers to act – to be proactive before the infrastructure “crumble[s] under the pressure” of a population that is set to double by 2050.

“If we don’t act now, and we don’t change our policy of being reactive to every time that there’s a crisis or a hazard … we stand to experience some really devastating conditions,” he said.

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Michael Marks
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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