The Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway project is an approximately $900-million cooperative effort between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.

USACE Dam Safety Program

Dam Safety Program

HQ USACE
Published Dec. 13, 2021
Updated: Dec. 16, 2021

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) operates and maintains approximately 740 dams and associated structures nationwide that provide significant, multiple benefits to the nation—its people, businesses, critical infrastructure and the environment.  These benefits include flood risk management, navigation, water supply, hydropower, environmental stewardship, fish and wildlife conservation and recreation. 

USACE’s dams are part of our nation’s landscape, integral to many communities and critical to watershed management.  Our dam safety professionals carry out a dam safety program to make sure these projects deliver their intended benefits while reducing risks to people, property and the environment through continuous assessment, communication and management. (By comparison there are more than 92,000 dams in the National Inventory of Dams (NID) that are federally, state, locally and privately operated and maintained.)


Program Activities

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Dam Safety Program uses risk to inform how it manages the approximately 740 dams it operates and maintains, with life safety the highest priority. This approach is a best practice adopted to evaluate, prioritize and justify dam safety decisions.  Using risk information allows USACE to repair its dams in the most effective manner within a constrained budget.

There has been tremendous progress in the USACE Dam Safety Program over the past several years. The program has transitioned from testing new organizational policies, procedures, and organizational elements to operational and production mode, which includes major repair/rehabilitation. Many great ideas for different program elements have been put in place to include new comprehensive dam safety policy that fully embraces USACE’s risk-informed approach, as well as the establishment of production centers and an assortment of new management tools.

Why does USACE have a Dam Safety Program?  As a self-regulated dam owner, USACE strives to deliver all the great benefits to our society that the dams were built for, but also reduce flood risk to the downstream public to the best of our abilities.  We also believe communication is important with everyone potentially affected by a dam so they can know and understand their risk.  Local emergency management agencies and state dam safety officials are great sources of information about what to do in the event of an emergency, such as warning systems, evacuation plans, and emergency shelters.   FEMA’s “Living with Dams” is an excellent information source.


Program Principles

  1. construction of wolf creek damPublic safety is the primary focus.

  2. Dam safety is a component of a broader flood risk management approach.

  3. An effective safety program requires continuous and periodic project inspections and assessments.

  4. The sustainable, systems and collaborative approach is the most effective way to manage and assess dams.

Dam safety information and risk communication must be accurate, timely and clear so individuals can understand risks to make informed decisions about their safety.
 


National Inventory of Dams

The National Inventory of Dams (NID) is the central repository for information about dams in the U.S. and its territories that meet specific criteria. The congressionally authorized database shows the location of these dams and serves as a resource to support awareness and preparedness for a dam-related emergency. USACE is responsible for maintaining the NID and closely collaborates with federal and state dam regulating agencies to obtain accurate and complete information about dams in the database. More information is available in the NID Overview fact sheet and by visiting NID.SEC.USACE.ARMY.MIL


Flood Inundation Maps for USACE Dams

Flood inundation maps show possible flooding near dams. USACE creates and shares flood inundation maps for its dams to promote awareness and planning and emergency response activities before a flood occurs. Consistent with Engineer Circular 1110-2-6075, USACE will publicly share flood inundation maps for its dams. These maps are viewable within the NID. More information is available in the Dams and Flood Inundation Maps fact sheet and by visiting NID.SEC.USACE.ARMY.MIL.


Key Documents

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 Engineer Manuals - Technical Guidance and Standards

The ERDC Library supports the mission-related research needs of ERDC scientists and engineers at three physical locations with a centralized library catalog and Web site. The ERDC Library hosts an online digital repository of ERDC-authored reports.

 

Risk analysis and risk assessment, like many modern dam safety practices, began with the failure of Teton Dam in June of 1976. The resulting dam safety legislation mentions the need to develop risk assessment procedures. Although initial development work in this area began shortly thereafter, it was not until the mid-1990’s that the Bureau of Reclamation began using risk analysis as the primary support for dam safety decision-making. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recognized the need to implement risk assessment procedures following levee failures that occurred in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, and soon thereafter began implementing risk analysis and risk assessment procedures.

 Manuals, guidelines, and practical reference material detailing risk analysis methodology for dam and levee safety applications are generally lacking. This training manual attempts to help fill that need. It contains what are considered the “Best Practices” currently in use for estimating dam and levee safety risks at the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These risk analysis practices have evolved over the years and will continue to evolve.

From the outset of implementing risk analysis, it was recognized that procedures and data available for dam and levee safety risk analysis, while quantitative (or semi-quantitative), do not provide precise numerical results. Therefore, this manual strives to present useful information, tools, and techniques, while stopping short of a “cookbook” approach. This allows the risk analyst(s) to use the proper balance of engineering judgment and calculations in estimating risks, and to understand and “build the case” for what most influences the risk. The numbers, while important, are less important than understanding and documenting what the major risk contributors are and why.

 By definition, “risk” is the product of the likelihood of an adverse outcome and the consequences of that outcome. The likelihood of an adverse outcome is the product of the likelihood of the loading that could produce that outcome and the likelihood that the adverse outcome would result from that loading. This manual covers primarily “risk analysis”, or the development of risk estimates. “Risk assessment”, or the process of evaluating the risks and determining the best course of action, is not discussed in detail although the section on Public Risk Tolerance and Risk Guidelines provides an introduction to this topic.

Best Practices have been documented in the "Best Practices in Dam and Levee Safety Risk Analysis", dated 3 December 2012.

 

Unified Facilities Criteria; the Department of Defense (DoD) and the military services have initiated a program to unify all technical criteria and standards pertaining to planning, design, construction, and operation and maintenance of real property facilities. The objective of the Unified Facilities Criteria (UFC) program is to streamline the military criteria system by eliminating duplication of information, increasing reliance on private-sector standards, and creating a more efficient criteria development and publishing process. Both technical publications and guide specifications are part of the UFC program. Previously, each service had its own publishing system resulting in criteria being disseminated in different formats.