Students:  You Want a Dam Career!!!           

Dams and levees are among the most challenging engineering structures to plan and design.  A variety of specialists are needed for this exciting area of infrastructure.  If you are in any of the following fields of study you may become a future dam (or levee) specialist!

  • Civil Engineers
  • Engineering Geologists
  • Geotechnical Engineers
  • Hydraulic Engineers
  • Hydrologists
  • Structural Engineers
  • Mechanical Engineers
  • Economists
  • Infrastructure Planners
  • Environmental Planners
ASDSO is committed to inspiring the next generation of dam safety practitioners.  ASDSO student resources include scholarships, free student admission to conferences, an annual student paper competition, a speakers bureau, an internships clearinghouse, research resources, career mentors, a resume posting service, and more.

ASDSO also offers a variety of resources for university faculty, including audiovisual presentations and assistance with capstone course development.
What Do Dam Specialists Do?

> Every dam or levee is different, which is what makes this career so fun and exciting!  

> Engineers and planners must understand site conditions that are unique to each project.

  • Geotechnical engineers and engineering geologists study the dam and levee foundations using subsurface investigation methods, and evaluate potential earthquake hazards.  
  • Hydrologists predict magnitudes of flooding and hydraulics engineers design spillways and outlets to handle the floods, using both scaled physical models and numerical models.
  • Economists and planners evaluate the current and future water and flood protection needs of communities and society.
  • Environmental planners evaluate the local environmental conditions and document the environmental resources that may be impacted such as wetlands habitat and endangered wildlife, fish, or plant species.

> Geotechnical engineers design earth and rock embankment dams and levee structures.  These large earth structures must be stable under earthquake shaking, extreme flood events, and normal and abnormal seepage conditions.

> Civil and structural engineers design concrete dams, spillways, and ancillary structures such as conveyance channels, and control structure buildings.  

> Mechanical and hydraulics engineers design gates, outlet works, conduits, penstocks, and powerhouse facilities.

Economists and planners consider the needs of local communities and society as a whole.  These specialists evaluate the costs, benefits, and potential economic and environmental impacts of dam and levee construction.  They prepare purpose and need statements, environmental and permitting documents, and communication tools needed to keep the public, governmental agencies, and political entities and decision-makers informed and involved in these important projects. 

Why are Dam Specialists Needed?
Dams and levees provide enormous benefits to society.  Levees and dams provide critical flood protection.  Dams store clean water for cities, towns, and farms.  Many reservoirs are popular spots for recreation and fishing.  And dams are an important source of “green”, low-cost hydro-electric energy. 
(But haven’t all the dams and levees already been built?)


The National Inventory of Dams lists approximately 1,800 dams built in the U.S. between 2000 and 2009.  Worldwide, according to the International Journal of Hydropower and Dams about 350 very large dams (> 60 meters high) are known to be under construction in 52 countries, with thousands more dams over 15 meters high under construction, several hundred in China alone.
New levee construction also is critically important, especially in light of the changing climate and extreme weather forecasts that could threaten unprotected low-lying populated areas.
> (And what about all those dams and levees that have already been built?)  The national ASCE Report Card gives the nation’s dams a condition grade of “D”.  The existing levee systems have been severely damaged by recent flooding.  According to state dam safety program statistics, the number of deficient dams grew from 1348 in 2001 to 4095 in 2007.  These vital elements of our infrastructure need significant upgrades, repairs and improvements in order to stay in service for future generations.
> Some dams and levees must be decommissioned (removed) - this presents unique engineering challenges to be done safely and without harming the environment.
> There are fewer new dams being built now in the U.S. compared to the number of dams built in the early to mid 20th century.  But there is a pressing need to upgrade, repair, replace or remove the thousands of existing dams and thousands of miles of existing levees in the U.S.  Not only are existing dams and levees aging, the most experienced dam engineers also are getting old!  There are tremendous opportunities for incoming professionals to take the reins in this specialty area.
Where Can You Learn More?
Get acquainted with the dam safety community!  How?

Come to ASDSO's 2014 Conference!

ASDSO offers FREE conference registration for students with valid IDs from schools in the US.

  • ASDSO National Conference:  Dam Safety 2014, Sept. 21-25 in San Diego, CA

Student Paper & Poster Competition

  • ASDSO will hold its sixth annual Student Paper Competition and second annual Student Poster Competition in conjunction with Dam Safety 2014 in San Diego, CA. (Entries accepted through Feb. 17.)

ASDSO Speakers Bureau

  • Speakers are available for classes and student groups. 

Careers: Internship and Co-ops/Resume Posting Service

  • Looking for a dam engineering internship?  ASDSO can help! ASDSO also posts resumes of students and recent graduates at no charge. Visit the Career Center for more information.

ASDSO Undergraduate Scholarship

  • ASDSO awards up to $10,000 annually. Students who will graduate in May 2015 will be eligible for 2014-2015 scholarships.  Applications must be postmarked by March 31, 2014.


Join us!  ASDSO offers affordable student memberships ($22/year).  Member benefits include ASDSO's quarterly Journal of Dam Safety, monthly electronic newsletter, and more.

Faculty Resources

ASDSO can help you inspire the next generation of dam safety specialists.  We offer a variety of faculty teaching aids and student support.  Details are listed below and in the attached Faculty Resources flyer.

ASDSO Speakers Bureau

  • Speakers are available for classes and student groups in all 50 states.

DVD: Dams 101

ASDSO has a 2-DVD set of introductory lectures titled "Dams 101," which was generously donated by consulting engineer and ASDSO member Kim de Rubertis. Session topics include: 

  • Introduction to Dams and Their Foundations
  • Embankment and Concrete Dams
  • Reliability Analysis, Potential Failure Modes, Risks and Dam Safety
  • Review, Failure, Instrumentation and Measurements, and My Crystal Ball

These sessions provide basic training in dam engineering through the life cycles of dams from concept to operation and maintenance. These DVDs are available free of charge. To request a copy, email

Other Audiovisual Training

The "Expert Video Series" developed for the National Dam Safety Program by the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety and the Bureau of Reclamation is suitable for classroom use. Six presentations are available, free of charge, from FEMA:

  • Dr. Ralph B. Peck. Seepage and Piping
  • Dr. Don U. Deere. Dam Foundations
  • Dr. John Lowe. Filters and Sinkholes/ Rapid Drawdown Stability
  • Dr. James K. Mitchell. Ground Improvements for Dam Safety
  • I. M. Idriss. Behavior of Embankment Dams During Earthquakes
  • Dr. Danny L. Fread. Dam Breach and Flood Wave Modeling
Assistance with Capstone Course Development
  • ASDSO offers assistance with project idenfication, course content, speakers, and more.  Contact ASDSO:, 855-228-9732 (toll-free), or 859-550-2788 (local).
The Journal of Dam Safety
  • Published quarterly, each issue includes three technical and/or policy articles, a summary of recent news, a training calendar, announcements and advertisements.

ASDSO Webinars (Archived and live webinars are each approximately 90-120 min. in length and suitable for classroom use).  Topics include:

  • Internal Erosion and Piping Considerations for Dam Safety
  • Fundamentals of Hydrology
  • Pitfalls in Quality Control Processes for Compacted Earth Fill
  • Empirical Estimates of Permeability for Earth Dam Projects
  • Applying the Pareto (80/20) Principle to Geotechnical Analyses of Embankment Projects
  • Geotechnical Review of Embankment Projects
  • Guidelines for Assigning Erodibility Parameters to Soil Horizons for SITES Analyses

ASDSO Information Services

ASDSO provides all website visitors with unlimited access to the ASDSO Bibliography, a vast database of publications and resources related to dam and levee safety. Limited library and research services are also available.


Note: Student services are only available within the United States


Association of State Dam Safety Officials, 450 Old Vine St., Lexington, KY 40507 | 859/550-2788 |

Copyright © 2017. Association of State Dam Safety Officials. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Statement | Disclaimer
Site designed and programmed by Hammond Communications Group, Inc.