Emergency Action Planning



dam owner responsibilities

Dam Owner Responsibilities

Liability and Responsibility Rest with the Dam Owner

Who Owns the Dams?

Georgia Dams by Owner bar graph: Federal-63, Local Gov't-339, Not listed-15, Private-4302, Public Utility-67, State-346
United States Dams by Owner bar graph: Federal-3808, Local Gov't-15938, Not listed-2951, Private-56541, Public Utility-1686, State-6435
Source: National Inventory of Dams 2013

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes in its overview of dam ownership in the United States that Dam owners are responsible for the safety and the liability of the dam and for financing its upkeep, upgrade, and repair.

Although most infrastructure facilities, such as roads, bridges, and sewer systems, are owned by public entities, the majority of dams in the United States are privately owned. In general, very large dams are owned and regulated by the Federal Government.

Given the diffuse nature of dam ownership versus regulation in the United States, it is apparent that dam safety and security are often not solely a federal, state, or local issue. The safety and security of a dam can affect persons and property across local, state, and even national borders. An incident in one area can affect commerce, navigation, and power generation and distribution, or it can cause severe damage in another area.

For most dam owners and managers, a failure of their dam would be a personal as well as a legal calamity. Many owners are local residents and know the people, businesses, schools, and other institutions that would be impacted by an inundation.

The American Society of Civil Engineers notes that:

  • In Georgia, there are 357 watershed dams which were constructed by the Soil Conservation Service since the 1940's. Over 100 of these dams are high-hazard dams and are maintained and operated by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts which has no revenue source for maintenance or rehabilitation. Approximately 44 percent of the HHP dams in Georgia are privately owned. Many are owned by individuals or homeowners associations (HOAs). These HOA dam owners are often unaware that they own a dam, and thus unaware of the maintenance and repair requirements. Georgia has no funding sources to assist private owners with dam maintenance or repair.
  • Any dam must be inspected and maintained to prolong the structure's life and prevent catastrophic failure. Since the inception of the Safe Dams Program, staff has inspected all high-hazard dams on an annual basis; however, due to staffing shortages, the inspection schedule has changed to a bi-annual basis. As part of shifting to bi-annual inspections, dam owners were notified of their lawful responsibility to inspect their own dams quarterly.