Emergency Action Planning



Dam Owner Responsibilities

Dam Owner Responsibilities

Liability and Legal Considerations

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) notes in its brochure 'Dam Failure and Owner Liability' that there are approximately 10 to 20 dam failures each year in the United States. Many of these result in catastrophic impact on communities, private property, and public works downstream, including loss of life. No dam owner wants that calamity to involve his of dam

Owner liability varies from state to state depending on statutes, regulations and case law. However, the concept of strict liability falls heavily on the dam owner for damages regardless of the cause of the failure. California's dam safety law and the regulations that implement it specifically absolve the state from liability from damages caused by a dam failure.

Learn Owner Liability

PDF document Dam Failure and Owner Liability

When assessing the liability of the owner and the potential for negligence, the standard of care the dam owner should have taken will be weighed against the downstream hazards. Compliance with government regulations and professional standards, such as the responsibility of dam owners to prepare EAPs on their HHP dams, establishes a minimum standard of care to be followed by the owners.

ASDSO notes that to manage risks and control potential loss an owner will need to provide employee training, regular maintenance, emergency preparedness, and liability insurance. Each HHP dam should have:

  • A state dam safety permit.
  • An operation plan, documented regular maintenance plan, and Emergency Action Plan.
  • Documented periodic inspections.
  • Warning signs and controlled access.

The Owner, Not the State, is Liable

The California Division of Safety of Dams has links on its website to state dam safety laws and regulations.

Dam owners should note provisions 6028 and 6029 of the Water Code, which exempts the state from liability:

6028. No action shall be brought against the state or the Department of Water Resources or its agents or employees for the recovery of damages caused by the partial or total failure of any dam or reservoir or through the operation of any dam or reservoir upon the ground that such defendant is liable by virtue of any of the following:
  1. The approval of the dam or reservoir.
  2. The issuance or enforcement of orders relative to maintenance or operation of the dam or reservoir.
  3. Control and regulation of the dam or reservoir
  4. Measures taken to protect against failure during an emergency.
6029. Nothing in this part shall be construed to relieve an owner or operator of a dam or reservoir of the legal duties, obligations, or liabilities incident to the ownership or operation of the dam or reservoir.

The owner has recourse to the courts as entitled to under California law. The dam safety law has a section on how to file a complaint.