Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a bill designed to make it easier for cities and towns to shore up or get rid of crumbling dams and seawalls.
The measure approved in the final days of the last legislative session would set aside $17 million for the repair or removal of unsafe, abandoned or useless dams while also helping strengthen the state’s coastal infrastructure.
The Nature Conservancy, an environmental group that pushed for the bill, said about 85 percent of dams in Mssachusets no longer serve their original purpose and some pose a threat to public safety.
In 2005, some 2,000 people were temporarily evacuated when floodwaters threatened to overwhelm the 173-year-old Whittenton Pond Dam in Taunton.
State Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, said Thursday the new law provides a funding mechanism for communities to address unsafe dams.