ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox


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Iron Bridge Dam on Lake Tawakoni in Texas.

(Image Source: Matthew T Rader, License CC-BY-SA)

Ongoing Responsibilities

"A state inspection program depends on dam owners and/or their consultants to provide complimentary and necessary inspections and surveillance. The dam owner and heirs, successor, or assigns is ultimately responsible for the safety of the dam. The owner is directly responsible for the ongoing operation, maintenance, surveillance, and periodic inspection. The owner shall do all of the following:

  1. Provide for on-going surveillance of the dam. The level of surveillance will depend on the size, condition, and hazard classification of the dam;
  2. Train their personnel in the basics of visual inspection techniques. Any person employed by the owner who regularly visits or works at the dam should be trained to inspect part or all of the dam and to report any observed problems;
  3. Measure or read appropriate instrumentation and record and evaluate the data at specified time frames;
  4. Promptly notify the state dam safety program of any unusual observations. Unusual observations may be indications of distress;
  5. Inspect the dam and its appurtenances:
    • On a regular periodic schedule based on size, condition, and consequence of failure, and;
    • During and after any unusual loading including, but not limited to, significant storm/runoff events or earthquakes, to determine if structural or operational problems exist;
  6. Maintain records for the dam, including but not limited to construction plans and documents, engineering studies, inspection reports, monitoring records, photos, the emergency action plan, and the operation and maintenance manual;
  7. Obtain the services of an engineer or have qualified in-house staff to inspect the dam as required by state regulations."[1]

Responsibilities During Construction

"Partnering is the creation of an owner-contractor relationship that promotes achievement of mutually beneficial goals. By taking steps before construction begins to change the adversarial mindset, to recognize common interests, and to establish an atmosphere of trust and candor in communications, partnering helps to develop a cooperative management team. Partnering is not a contractual agreement and does not create any legally enforceable rights or duties. There are three basic steps involved in establishing the partnering relationship:

  1. Establish a new relationship through personal contact.
  2. Craft a joint statement of goals and establish common objectives in specific detail for reaching the goals.
  3. Identify specific disputes and prevention processes designed to head off problems, evaluate performance, and promote cooperation."[2]


Lesson Learned: Dam owners, engineers, and regulators need to address public safety at dams (

Lesson Learned: A complete and thorough dam record is essential (

Lesson Learned: Dam incidents and failures can fundamentally be attributed to human factors (

Lesson Learned: Intervention can stop or minimize consequences of a dam failure. Warning signs should not be ignored (

Lesson Learned: Regular operation, maintenance, and inspection of dams is important to the early detection and prevention of dam failure (

Lesson Learned: Timely warning and rapid public response are critical to saving lives during a dam emergency

Best Practices Resources

Model State Dam Safety Program (FEMA P-316)


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

On-Demand Webinar: Human Factors in the Oroville Dam Spillway Incident

On-Demand Webinar: Risk Communication for Dams

On-Demand Webinar: Human Factors in Dam Failure and Safety

On-Demand Webinar: How to Communicate Effectively in Any Situation

On-Demand Webinar: Tolerable Risk Guidelines for Dams: How Safe is Safe Enough

On-Demand Webinar: Risk Assessment Basics for an Individual Dam

On-Demand Webinar: Risk Management for a Portfolio of Dams


Revision ID: 7380
Revision Date: 07/21/2023