Our Community: Policymakers


State and federal policymakers can increase the safety of dams by providing strong laws and resources to carry out safety programs. ASDSO works to keep state and federal legislators up-to-date on issues and guidelines.

Laws governing dam regulation are essential to reduce the threat of dam failures. Regulation of dams in the USA rests almost entirely with the States. States regulate about 80% of the approximately 83,000 dams inventoried nationally. While the majority of states have been working to improve their programs in the last 25 years, most are still struggling with minimum budgets and staff. A handful do not even have adequate programs in place to regulate the safety of dams in those states. Alabama has no state dam safety program in place.

The remaining percentage of dams are owned or regulated by federal agencies. Federal agencies involved with dam safety, either as owners and/or regulators, include the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior,  the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Department of State, International Boundary and Water Commission (U.S. Section), the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency does not own or regulate dams but administers the National Dam Safety Program.


Importance of Strong Dam Safety Laws

Dams provide tremendous benefits, including water supply for drinking, irrigation and industrial uses; flood control; hydroelectric power; recreation; and navigation. However, dams also represent one of the greatest risks to public safety, local and regional economies and the environment. Historically, some of the largest disasters in the United States have resulted from dam failures. For more on dam failures click here.

In order to provide safe, continuing service, dams require ongoing maintenance, monitoring, frequent safety inspections and rehabilitation. Aging dams often require major rehabilitation to assure their safety.

The age of a dam is not necessarily a direct indicator of its condition.  Age is indirectly an indicator in that old dams were not built to the standards of today.  Some older dams are considered in poor condition for this reason alone; others may have been inadequately maintained as well.

Downstream development below dams is increasing dramatically, and continuing scientific research of dam failure mechanisms, such as earthquakes and major flood events, frequently demand repairs to dams, which were constructed long before these advances were realized.

Many state dam safety programs do not have sufficient funding or staffing to effectively regulate dams under their authority.

How can proper state laws and appropriations improve dam safety?

  • Significantly reduce the number of dam failures. 
  • Establish Emergency Action Planning procedures for High- and Significant-Hazard Potential Dams. 
  • Work with dam owners to ensure safe dams. 
  • Ensure that dams are built and repaired properly. 
  • Respond to dam safety emergencies. 
  • Educate dam owners, consultants, emergency management personnel, and the public about dam safety. 
Tools for Policymakers

How Do Dams Rank on the ASCE Infrastructure Report Card

Living With Dams Website

Guidelines for Writing Dam Safety Laws/Regulations : ASDSO, in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has developed a Model State Dam Safety Program guide, which contains examples of dam safety laws, regulations, inspection procedures, proper state staffing and budgeting information, plus other information that will help states upgrade their dam safety programs.

Learn About Individual State Dam Safety Programs: Click on any state to find out more about their dam safety program.

Overview of Dam Safety in the U.S.

Learn About Federal Dam Safety


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