Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-El Monte, sent a letter Wednesday urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make safety repairs at Whittier Narrows Dam its highest budgetary priority in light of an assessment that the barrier could fail in the event of a very large, very rare storm.

In a series of recent public hearings, Corps officials told residents that the 60-year-old Whittier Narrows Dam no longer met the federal agency’s tolerable-risk guidelines and could fail if water were to flow over its crest or if seepage eroded the sandy soil underneath.

The Corps is seeking up to $600 million in federal funding to upgrade the 3-mile-long dam and says the project has been classified as the agency’s highest priority nationally, due to the risk of “very significant loss of life and economic impacts,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Millions of people live directly downstream of the dam, and the human and economic impact of possible dam failure due to potential seepage and hydrologic issues in an extremely rare weather event is unacceptable,” Napolitano wrote. “I greatly appreciate that the Army Corps of Engineers has recognized this concern and given Whittier Narrows Dam the top priority in your dam safety program. I urge the Corps to provide significant funding in the forthcoming FY20 Budget and Work Plan to expeditiously design and construct the dam safety repairs.”

Napolitano chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is part of the Department of Defense. She sent the letter to Ricky “R.D.” James, assistant secretary of the Army for Civil Works, after the two met last week, her office said.

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