ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox

Legal Responsibilities (Public Safety)

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"According to the Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety published by FEMA in April of 2004, public safety around dams is a top priority for dam owners and regulators. The guidelines read "public safety is of paramount importance at all dams and reservoirs. Specifically, public safety on the reservoir, in areas adjacent to the reservoir, and below the dam should be considered, particularly in recreational areas. Safety measures should include identification of high watermarks to indicate past or probable reservoir levels and streamflows, posting of safety instructions at highly visible and key locations, and providing audible safety warnings upstream of and below outlets as appropriate."[1]

"Because dam owners bear the responsibility of upkeep, they are also primarily responsible when dams fail and cause environmental, economic, and personal damage. Furthermore, when a non-failure incident (such as a drowning or injury) occurs at a dam, victims and families have increasingly turned to the courts to sue dam owners for negligence. Recent developments in case law and litigation have underscored the need for dam owners, operators, and other professionals to be vigilant and proactive in efforts to secure the safety of the area around their properties. Cases such as Marston v. General Electric (2014), Suchy v. City of Geneva (2014), and Volpe v. City of Lexington (2011) have set precedent for determining liability due to negligence or inactivity regarding the establishment and maintenance of enhanced safety precautions at and around dams. Even in cases that were dismissed or determined in favor of the dam operator, the legal action can be time consuming and expensive. Because of the risks and legal liabilities involved with dam management, it is of absolute importance that owners and operators appropriately address risk and potential hazards at and around their dams." [1]

Best Practices Resources

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


  1. 1.0 1.1 Public Safety At Dams (, ASDSO, 2022

Revision ID: 7151
Revision Date: 07/11/2023