ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox

Visual Inspection

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Dam inspections are crucial for ensuring the safety, stability, and reliability of dams. Over time, dams can deteriorate due to aging, natural forces, and environmental factors. As a result, regular inspections are necessary to identify potential issues, implement timely maintenance, and repair measures to prevent failures.

Dam inspections involve a comprehensive assessment of various components and systems of the dam, including the dam structure, spillways, gates, embankments, foundations, and instrumentation. The inspection process begins with a thorough visual examination of the dam and its surroundings. This includes assessing the overall structural integrity, identifying signs of distress such as cracks, leaks, settlement, erosion, or seepage, and observing any changes in vegetation patterns that could indicate issues with the dam's foundation or drainage.

In addition to visual inspections, various non-destructive testing techniques are used to evaluate the condition of the dam. These techniques may include ground penetrating radar, seismic surveys, and geotechnical investigations to assess the stability of the dam and its foundation. Instruments such as inclinometers, piezometers, and pressure sensors are installed in the dam and to monitor water levels, seepage, and other factors that can affect the dam’s safety.

Inspectors may also review the dam's maintenance records, operation logs, and monitoring data to assess its ongoing performance and identify any trends or patterns that could indicate potential risks. They may consider factors such as changes in upstream or downstream conditions, weather patterns, and geological data to determine the dam's vulnerability to external forces. Following the inspection, inspectors provide a detailed report outlining their observations, recommendations, and any necessary corrective actions.

It must be noted that dam inspections are not a one-time event but a continuous process. Regular inspections help track the condition of the dam over time and detect any sudden changes or deterioration that may require attention. Additional inspections should be conducted following significant events such as earthquakes, heavy rainfall, or other factors that could impact the dam's stability.

Dam inspections are vital for evaluating the condition of dams and identifying potential risks or issues that could compromise their safety and performance. By conducting thorough and regular inspections, authorities and dam owners can mitigate risks, implement necessary repairs or modifications, and ensure the long-term integrity and functionality of these critical infrastructure assets.

Best Practices Resources

Safety of Dams: Policy and Procedures (ER 1110-2-1156), USACE