Three simple actions can increase residents’ safety in the event of a dam failure
Governor Glenn Youngkin has declared May 31 Dam Safety Awareness Day in Virginia, encouraging individuals and communities to understand the flood risk associated with dam failures and to take actions that increase safety.
This date is also National Dam Safety Awareness Day, commemorating the Great Flood of 1889 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The flood was caused by a catastrophic failure of South Fork Dam brought on by days of heavy rain and a series of alterations that made the dam vulnerable to overtopping.
Dam failures can cause catastrophic flash floods. These failures may be caused by overtopping from precipitation or flooding, construction deficiencies or structural failure of materials used to build the impoundment.
Aging dams are an issue across the U.S. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that seven in 10 dams will be 50 years or older by 2025.
In Virginia, the Department of Conservation and Recreation regulates more than 2,600 dams, including 371 High Hazard dams. These dams pose the greatest risk to life and property downstream should the dam fail. DCR’s Dam Safety staff helps dam owners comply with state regulations and serves as a resource for the engineering community and emergency responders.
DCR encourages Virginians to take these actions to increase their safety and awareness regarding dams:
1. Be aware. Sign up to view dams in your area in the Dam Safety Inventory System (https://www.dcr.virginia.gov/dam-safety-and-floodplains/ds-dsis) or view your flood risk and locate dams near you in the Virginia Flood Risk Information System (https://consapps.dcr.virginia.gov/VFRIS/). The Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams database (https://nid.usace.army.mil/#/) is also a valuable resource.
2. Be prepared. If you live in a dam-break inundation zone, get flood insurance. Standard homeowner’s policies don’t cover damage from flooding.
3. Reach out. Email DCR at email@example.com if you have concerns about a dam in your area.