The Moment

7|24|10: Iowa

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As Washington fights over whether to extend assistance for millions of out-of-work Americans, it is easy to forget where our money is going. A pair of late-July dam breaks--one at Arizona's Tempe Town Lake and the other at Iowa's Lake Delhi--offered a wet reminder. The latter was by far the bigger disaster, flooding hundreds of homes, submerging 6,000 acres of farmland and causing millions of dollars in damage. The American Society of Civil Engineers says 4,095 of the nation's 85,000 dams are in need of repair, including 1,826 that could cause loss of life if they failed. That same group says our nation's infrastructure, everything from highways to sewers, is in need of a $2.2 trillion upgrade, while our ports and transportation systems are far less productive than many emerging nations', a fact that is hobbling our already ailing manufacturing sector. In the highly political and philosophical debate over which will cost the U.S. more--crumbling bridges or rising deficits--the bursting of two little-known dams serves as a stark reminder that ignoring our infrastructure is not a strategy that can long hold much water.