Dam Safety in the States

State Dam Safety Programs

States have permitting, inspection and enforcement authority for 70 percent of the 90,580 dams listed in the 2016 National Inventory of Dams. (Federal agencies own or regulate about 6% of dams listed in the NID; 26% list no regulatory agency.)

More state and national statistics are available from the National Inventory of Dams.

Source: USACE - 2016 National Inventory of Dams

The vast majority of US dams are privately owned.

Source: USACE - 2016 National Inventory of Dams

State Program Resources

Total budgets for state dam safety programs have rebounded somewhat since the 2008 economic downturn when many programs experienced cuts in funding as state budgets struggled in general. Staffing did see a slight decrease in 2015, however it has remained relatively steady in recent years with an overall increase since 1999. State by state statistics are available at 2015 State Dam Safety Program Statistics.

Building State Programs to Address Deficient Dams

The National Dam Safety Program, in cooperation with ASDSO, developed the Model State Dam Safety Program to assist state officials in initiating or improving their state programs. The model outlines the key components of an effective dam safety program and provides guidance on the development of more effective and sustainable state programs to minimize risks created by unsafe dams. It contains chapters on Legislative Authorities, Permitting, Inspection, Enforcement, Emergency Action Planning and Response, Education and Training, and Public Relations.

The table to the right presents the weighted average of state responses over time to a series of yes/no questions on the authorities for each chapter. The areas are listed and weighted by importance (weights indicated in parentheses). Higher percentages indicate greater alignment of the state programs with the model. The overall increased percentages since 1989 demonstrate significant progress by state programs in these areas.

National Dam Safety Program Performance Measures Summary: From 1989 to 2015

Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) for High Hazard Potential Dams

  • Nationally the percentage of high hazard potential dams with an EAP has increased from 35% to 77% for the period 1999 to 2015.
  • Nearly every state has shown improvement in the number of EAPs for HH dams with no state showing a significant decrease. Many states had increases of several hundred to several thousand percent.
  • Nationally for the period 1999 to 2015 the average of individual state increases in EAPs was 668%; Hawaii had the greatest state increase of 5900% going from 2 EAPs in 1999 to 120 in 2015. In just the last eight reporting years (2008-2015) the average of state increases was 134% (as an example, Texas EAPs increased from 163 in 2008 to 981 in 2015, an increase of over 500%).
  • In 2015 twenty-three states reported percentages of high hazard potential dams with an EAP at 90% or greater, up from just ten in 1999.
  • There is still room for improvement with seven states reporting less than 50% of high hazard potential dams with an EAP.

Inspections of High Hazard Potential Dams

  • The chart to the right shows the percentage of inspections completed for high hazard potential dams based on the inspection frequency and schedule due for a particular state. Inspection percentages may vary above and below 100% for any given year based on a state's inspection frequency and scheduling (i.e., a state with an inspection frequency of every two years might inspect more than half of the dams in the first year, or greater than 100%, in order to take advantage of their close proximity).
  • The national average for the inspection of high hazard potential dams has remained relatively steady over the reporting period of 1998 to 2015.
  • In comparing 2015 to 1998, 38 states reported inspection activity for high hazard potential dams equal to or greater than 100% of the 1998 level with an additional five states at 75% or greater (percentages in the range of 75% and above would likely represent no significant decrease in inspection activity due to scheduling fluctuations).

Identification/Remediation of Deficient High Hazard Potential Dams

  • Increased inspection efforts by the state programs have resulted in the significant increase in the number of identified deficient high hazard potential dams. The fact that there was not a corresponding large increase in the number of high hazard potential dams remediated shows the need for increased enforcement efforts by states and for new rehabilitation and repair funding sources.
  • In 2009 the NID began collecting condition rating data on high hazard potential dams. Those with Poor or Unsatisfactory ratings are considered in need of remediation. For the 2016 NID update 85% of state-regulated high hazard potential dams were rated. States voluntarily submit this data and the number of dams not rated continues to decrease.
  • From 2009 to 2016 there was a 36% increase (34% to 70%) in dams with either a Satisfactory or Fair rating. The percentage of dams with condition ratings of Poor and Unsatisfactory (those in need of remediation) increased from 7% to 15% as more dams were rated.

*2010, 2013 & 2015 data from NID condition assessment with only 66% (2010), 76% (2013) & 85% (2015) of State Regulated HHP dams being reported. Prior years’ data was anecdotal totals reported by each state to ASDSO. The condition assessment field, instituted by the NID in 2009, will provide more accurate information on remediation needs than the anecdotal totals as the states report condition assessments for all HHP dams in coming years.

National Summary of State Dam Safety Program Performance Statistics

2015 State Dam Safety Program Statistics

More state and national statistics are available from the National Inventory of Dams.

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