ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox

Anatomy of Dams

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Dams are complex structures that differ due to varying site conditions, intended purposes, anticipated loading conditions, and other factors. Despite the wide range of design considerations among dams of all types, there are a few functions and features that are common to most dams.

The basic features common to most dams are illustrated in the adjacent figure, and include the dam structure, means of water conveyance (spillway(s) and outlet works), and the reservoir. While the type of dam structure or spillway may vary from dam to dam, the function and general layout are similar. A more thorough discussion of these basic anatomical features of dams is provided on the following topic pages:

Image Source: Gannett Fleming

Best Practices Resources

Pocket Safety Guide for Dams and Impoundments (FEMA P-911), FEMA


ASDSO Dam Owner Academy: Dams 101

Revision ID: 7303
Revision Date: 07/18/2023