ASCE has honored Maya Wei-Haas with the 2021 ASCE Excellence in Journalism Award for her outstanding coverage of national dam conditions and their role in public safety in “The Problem America Has Neglected for Too Long: Deteriorating Dams,” an article from 2020 on the National Geographic website.
Wei-Haas’ piece was written in response to the Sanford and Edenville dam failures in Midland, Michigan, in May 2020. While the piece illuminated the issues each dam had leading up to their eventual failures, it also expanded on dam deterioration as a nationwide problem due to underfunding, lack of proper oversight, and a general unawareness of the condition of America’s dams among the public. Her article analyzed the percentage of dams listed as high-hazard potential, the age of dams in comparison to their design life (many are well beyond their 50-year design lives), and the investment gap facing dams in need of repair.
Wei-Haas does an excellent job explaining in layman’s terms the condition of dams, which tend to be overshadowed by roads, bridges, and transmission lines whenever infrastructure is discussed, despite their vast impact on local communities, large metropolises, and natural environments.
In 1994, ASCE established the Excellence in Journalism Award to honor newspaper journalists for outstanding articles that enhance public understanding of the role and impact of civil engineering in designing solutions for clean water, transportation, the environment, and other public works projects. In 2006, the award was expanded to include journalists and producers from English-language, general-interest regional and national newspapers, radio and television stations, magazines, and electronic and web-based news outlets.