CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia's watershed dams are old, getting older and need to be repaired, but no one knows how much that will cost, or even what kinds of repairs are needed.
Brian Farkas, executive director of the West Virginia Conservation Agency, said about 100 of the state's 170 watershed dams do not meet current design standards, but the agency needs to have engineers review the structures to prioritize what should be repaired first and how much those repairs likely would cost.
But no matter how much the repairs cost, the agency likely would not be able to afford them.
Farkas told members of the Legislature's Agriculture and Rural Development interim committee on Wednesday the state Conservation Agency runs on a $440,000 yearly budget, culled from state and local government sources.
He said it would cost about $2.6 million just to address basic repairs at dams, like cutting the grass, removing debris, fixing minor erosion issues and painting metalwork.
That does not include major repairs, however, like repairing landslips and seepage.
"It is a statewide issue. And it is an issue, given our current resources, we currently can't address," he said.
Of West Virginia's 55 counties, 26 contain at least one watershed dam. Of the state's 170 dams, Farkas said 169 are designated "high hazard." That means, if they should break, high levels of property damage and loss of life likely would occur.
Forty-two of those dams are more than 50 years old. The state's two oldest dams, built in the early 1950s, are in Harrison County in the Salem Fork watershed. Within the next five years, 83 state dams will be a half-century old.