Dam Safety 101

Dam Safety 101

Dam Safety: A National Concern

Dams bring water, power, flood control, recreation, economic possibilities and many other advantages to people. But people must understand that safe operation and maintenance is key to sustaining these advantages and avoiding potential disaster.

From 1998 to 2008, the recorded number of deficient dams (those with structural or hydraulic deficiencies leaving them susceptible to failure) rose by 137%—from 1,818 to 4,308. While federally owned dams are in good condition, and there have been modest gains in repair, the number of dams identified as unsafe is increasing at a faster rate than those being repaired.

Since 2003, an ASDSO task group has calculated dam rehabilitation costs as follows*:

Year Funding needs,
non-federal dams
Funding needs,
non-federal HH dams
2003 $34 billion $10.1 billion
2009 $51.46 billion $16 billion ($8.7 B public, $7.3B private)
2012 $53.69 billion $18.2 billion ($11.2B public, $7B private
2016 $60.7 billion $18.71 billion
*Source: The Cost of Rehabilitating Our Nation’s Dams: A Methodology, Estimate, and Proposed Funding Mechanism

ASDSO has been advocating for passage of a national dam rehab assistance program. At the end of the 2015-16 Congress, this important program was passed. If appropriated in the new Congress, this federally sponsored program would provide funds to be cost-shared at 65 percent federal to 35 percent state/local for non-federal publicly owned dams. The legislation provides funds to states based on the number of high hazard potential dams in each of the participating states.

The number of high-hazard potential dams (dams whose failure would cause loss of human life) is increasing dramatically. Since 1998, the number of high-hazard-potential dams has increased from 9,281 to more than 15,498 in the 2016 update of the National Inventory of Dams.

Over the past few years more than 65 dam failures have been documented. (See the Dam Failures and Incidents link for more information.)

Introduction to Dams

Safety Concern Spurs Need for Regulation: Dam Safety Regulation in the US

Top Issues Facing the Dam Safety Community

Dams are a Vital Part of the National Infrastructure

What Does ASDSO do to Improve Dam Safety?

The Good News

Levee Safety


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