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Dam Safety Concepts

Accessing and using resources and guidance on dam safety is key to successful dam ownership. Dam Owner 101 was developed to introduce important concepts dam owners should be aware of and provide additional resources to access more detailed information. Here are a few important concepts, followed by resources to learn more.

Key Concepts

Dam - Any artificial barrier of at least a minimum size, including appurtenant works, that impounds or diverts water or liquid-borne solids on a temporary or long-term basis (for a full definition see Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety).

Hazard Potential Classification - A system that categorizes dams according to the degree of adverse incremental consequences from their failure or mis-operation that does not reflect in any way on their current condition (their safety, structural integrity, or flood routing capacity), and that includes the following categories:

  • High hazard potential – Loss of one or more human life is probable.

  • Significant hazard potential – No probable loss of human life but possible economic loss, environmental damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, or other impacts.

  • Low hazard potential – No probable loss of human life and low economic and/or environmental losses (typically limited to the property of the dam owner).

Responsibilities and Liability - The dam owner is responsible for the operation and maintenance of a safe dam. Maintaining a safe dam is a key element in preventing failure and limiting the liability that an owner could face. The extent of an owner’s liability varies from State to State and depends on statutes and case law precedents. (Visit your state’s dam safety program website for more information.) Owners can be fiscally and criminally liable for any failure of a dam and all damages resulting from its failure. Any uncontrolled release of the reservoir resulting from a dam failure or uncontrolled release can have a devastating effect on persons, property, and the environment. The recommended action taken by individuals will be determined by their expertise with dam maintenance. Inexperienced individuals should photograph suspected problem(s) and report them promptly to the dam owner or operator. When you become aware of any unusual conditions that seem critical or dangerous to a dam, report them immediately to the appropriate Federal or State agency official.

Last Updated: 
10/02/2019 - 11:36