Dams offer many benefits ranging from irrigation, drinking water supply, flood control, renewable energy, recreation, transportation, and environmental enhancements. In particular, dams with storage can play a significant societal role during extreme weather conditions like floods and droughts.
Generally, yes. Each state has their own regulations for dams in their state. A dam owner should consult the specific regulations for their state. For example, the Commonwealth of Virginia excludes dams from regulation dams if they are:
Some states, like California, assume jurisdiction over dams even if the federal government also licenses the dam.
Dams are generally regulated according to their classification.
Dams are typically classified by their potential for loss of life or significant economic damage if the dam fails. A high hazard dam has the potential for either loss of life or significant economic damage. A low hazard dam would incur no expected loss of life or significant economic damage.
Virginia uses three dam classifications:
If your dam is regulated, you will need to obtain a state permit to operate it. In Virginia, you will need to apply for an Operation and Maintenance Certificate.
An application will require:
In Virginia, the Operation and Maintenance Certificate is good for six years and then must be renewed.
Yes, a dam owner needs to conduct an annual inspection of the dam. This can be done either by the dam owner or a professional engineer.
A high hazard dam requires an inspection by a professional engineer every two years.
A significant hazard dam must be inspected every three years by a professional engineer.
Prior to construction or alteration of a dam, an owner requires a construction or alteration permit.
Yes, if land uses change downstream and there is a greater potential for loss of life or significant economic loss.
If the change is due to downstream uses, it is possible that more stringent standards might exist for a dam owner if the classification changes.
If a dam has been in existence for years and provides public benefits, American dams believes that the owner should not bear sole responsibility for improving the dam. It is important to work with downstream land owners and local and state governments to address this issue. If an inundation study has been done, American Dams suggests that the dam owner be active and work with land owners to minimize development in the inundation area.
American Dams has similar goals to most state and federal dam safety officials. That is, dams should dams should be properly and safely designed, constructed, operated and maintained in a manner that protects public safety. Each dam owner should remain vigilant in keeping their dam safe.
Regulators have adopted standards to protect the public from dam failures. Over time these standards have become more stringent. However, in a number of instances, the regulations have had unintended consequences on some dams, making the dams more costly to operate but providing little or no public benefit. If a dam owner believes that a regulation unfairly and unnecessarily affects their dam, American Dams will assist the dam owner in identifying and remedying any regulatory burden that does not benefit public safety.
There are several sources available to a dam owner to obtain information on dam safety. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s website at www.FERC.gov provides detailed information on dam safety. Go to Industries and Dam Safety and Inspections.
The United States Society on Dams web site also contains comprehensive information on dam safety. Their website is www.ussdams.org. The National Hydropower Association has a dam safety program entitled Operational Excellence. Their website can be found at www.hydro.org.
Yes, many states offer grants to dam owners in their state to assist the dam owner to ensure their dams remain safe. In the Virginia, the Virginia Resources Authority manages grants for the state. Grants are issued with a 50 percent match from the dam owner. Virginia allows grant monies to be used for items like dam break inundation zone analyses, hazard classification, emergency action plan development, and dam engineering and design. Applications are usually due to the state in the first quarter of the year.
American Dams believes that all the public benefits of dams should be taken into consideration in the operation and maintenance of dams. American Dams is concerned that some organizations and agencies have goals to remove dams without due consideration of their public benefits. Dam owners should not be retroactively required to implement expensive measures to provide environmental enhancements. However, American Dams encourages dam owners to work with partners to protect and enhance the environment. The federal and state governments and a number of environmental organizations offer grants that can be used for environmental enhancements. American Dams will publish grant opportunities on our website as they become known.
If a dam owner wants to add hydropower to their dam, they will need to file a preliminary permit application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). In some circumstances, a dam owner can bypass the preliminary permit process and proceed directly to a license application or license exception from FERC. For more information dam owners should refer to FERC’s regulations at www.FERC.gov or consult an expert in FERC licensing. American Dams can provide a list of consultants in your area or additional information at no cost to a member of American Dams.
Serving more than 350,000 people, Tacoma Power dams produce clean, green and renewable power. Tacoma Power has invested millions into
improving fish passage, constructing two new hatcheries and researching safe fish collection.