ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox

Dam Safety Programs

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Dam Safety is the art and science of ensuring the integrity and viability of dams such that they do not present unacceptable risks to the public, property, and the environment. It requires the collective application of engineering principles and experience, and a philosophy of risk management that recognizes that a dam is a structure whose safe function is not explicitly determined by its original design and construction. It also includes all actions taken to identify or predict deficiencies and consequences related to failure, and to document, publicize, and reduce, eliminate, or remediate to the extent reasonably possible, any unacceptable risks. [1]

The key entity that governs the many needed recurring activities (e.g., inspections) and one-time activities (e.g., dam repair) for one or hundreds of dams is the dam safety program. Dam Safety Programs are the entities responsible for assuring that the dams assigned to them are safe for continued operation. They protect property and people from the disastrous effects of avoidable dam failures and incidents and establish emergency procedures for unforeseen circumstances.

The goals of a dam safety program typically include:

  • Preventing incidents and failures
  • Monitoring, inspecting, and surveilling dams on a frequent basis to detect emerging problems
  • Evaluating the safety and risks of each dam on a periodic basis
  • Avoiding safety issues and unacceptable risks when designing and constructing repairs to a dam
  • Protecting investments (provide for the continuing benefits of the dam(s))
  • Meeting legal obligations
  • Preparing for dam emergencies

This toolbox section is dedicated to sharing the key references, training, policies, and guidelines to support the development of strong dam safety programs.

Types of Dam Safety Programs

Some dam safety programs are owner dam safety programs, other dam safety programs are regulatory in nature and have the responsibility of assuring dam owners are keeping their dams safe. Owner dam safety programs keep dams safe through dam inspections, monitoring, risk/safety analysis, dam repair and emergency preparedness. Regulator dam safety programs perform ongoing oversight of dam owner dam safety programs to ensure the dams are safe; however, the responsibility for the safety of the dam ultimately resides with the owner. In the federal government, some agencies have dam safety programs which fulfill combined dam owner and regulator responsibilities.

Dam safety programs and the number and geographic extent of the dams assigned to them varies widely. Small owner dam safety programs include individuals, local governments, water companies, homeowner associations, recreational groups, special purpose districts and mining companies. Larger dam owners include governmental agencies (federal or state), water supply companies, power generating utilities, and irrigation districts.

Learn more about the various types of dam safety programs on the following topic pages:

Proficiencies Required for Dam Safety Programs

For a successful dam safety program there are many skills needed, including:

  • Knowledge of past dam failures and incidents
  • Development and application of laws, regulations, policies, and guidelines
  • Safety evaluation and risk assessment
  • Review of dam technical analyses, evaluation, and designs
  • Knowledge of dam safety technical areas including hydrology, geology, structural, hydraulics, geotechnical, and emergency management

Best Practices Resources

Model State Dam Safety Program (FEMA P-316), FEMA

Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety (FEMA P-93), FEMA


On-Demand Webinar: The History of Dam Safety Governance in the US Including Risk Analysis

On-Demand Webinar: Teton Dam – The Failure That Changed an Industry


Revision ID: 7897
Revision Date: 06/12/2024