Improving the Safety of Our Nation's Dams--Progress and Issues

CED-79-30: Published: Mar 8, 1979. Publicly Released: Mar 8, 1979.

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The Corps of Engineers inspected about 1,800 non-federal dams during 1978 in an effort to discover potentially hazardous conditions that threaten dam safety. Many deficiencies were noted, and remedial measures were recommended to dam owners and states. There is a need to improve the nation's federal dams, and guidelines are being developed to help coordinate the dam safety efforts of federal agencies.

The key safety issues to be resolved concern non-federal dams. The cooperation of dam owners and willingness of the states to continue efforts begun by the Corps non-federal dam inspection program are needed; however, many dam owners lack the financial resources, willingness, or understanding to take recommended remedial measures and the states do not have legislative authority, funds, or trained personnel to conduct their own programs. The study of five selected states showed that, although some states have improved their programs, many of the improvements, such as hiring additional personnel and providing training, are dependent upon financing by the Corps of Engineers and may not continue when the financial assistance program ends in 1981.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should direct the Corps of Engineers to propose legislation defining an appropriate long-term Federal role in non-Federal dam safety. This would include a logical extension of the dam inspection program and would provide a method to gather the information needed so that Congress may consider a national dam safety program.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief, Corps of Engineers, to: collect and analyze sufficient information to determine an appropriate long-term Federal role in non-Federal dam safety and make that information available to the Congress; monitor on a continuing basis State and dam owner actions to increase non-Federal dam safety; and verify and update the 1975 inventory of non-Federal dams after clarifying definitions of hazard categories. The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Commissioner of Reclamation and the Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief of Engineers to incorporate in agency regulations those existing policies intended to increase dam safety. The Federal dam safety guidelines may benefit the States in many respects, and the Chairman of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology should furnish approved Federal dam safety guidelines to State governments for use as a model for non-Federal dam safety.

    Agency Affected:


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