Dam Safety

Published Jan. 16, 2024
Updated: Jan. 16, 2024

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) operates and maintains approximately 740 dams and associated structures nationwide that provide significant, multiple benefits to the nation—its people, businesses, critical infrastructure and the environment.  These benefits include flood risk management, navigation, water supply, hydropower, environmental stewardship, fish and wildlife conservation and recreation.

USACE’s dams are part of our nation’s landscape, integral to many communities and critical to watershed management.  Our dam safety professionals carry out a dam safety program to make sure these projects deliver their intended benefits while reducing risks to people, property and the environment through continuous assessment, communication and management. (By comparison there are more than 92,000 dams in the National Inventory of Dams (NID) that are federally, state, locally and privately operated and maintained.)

Program Activities

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Dam Safety Program uses risk to inform how it manages the approximately 740 dams it operates and maintains, with life safety the highest priority. This approach is a best practice adopted to evaluate, prioritize and justify dam safety decisions.  Using risk information allows USACE to repair its dams in the most effective manner within a constrained budget.

There has been tremendous progress in the USACE Dam Safety Program over the past several years. The program has transitioned from testing new organizational policies, procedures, and organizational elements to operational and production mode, which includes major repair/rehabilitation. Many great ideas for different program elements have been put in place to include new comprehensive dam safety policy that fully embraces USACE’s risk-informed approach, as well as the establishment of production centers and an assortment of new management tools.

Why does USACE have a Dam Safety Program?  As a self-regulated dam owner, USACE strives to deliver all the great benefits to our society that the dams were built for, but also reduce flood risk to the downstream public to the best of our abilities.  We also believe communication is important with everyone potentially affected by a dam so they can know and understand their risk.  Local emergency management agencies and state dam safety officials are great sources of information about what to do in the event of an emergency, such as warning systems, evacuation plans, and emergency shelters.   FEMA’s “Living with Dams” is an excellent information source.

Program Principles

  1. Public safety is the primary focus.

  2. Dam safety is a component of a broader flood risk management approach.

  3. An effective safety program requires continuous and periodic project inspections and assessments.

  4. The sustainable, systems and collaborative approach is the most effective way to manage and assess dams.

Dam safety information and risk communication must be accurate, timely and clear so individuals can understand risks to make informed decisions about their safety.

Inspections and Monitoring


After a dam is built it is inspected regularly by people that know the structure and the signs of distress. Possible problems found during an inspection are investigated and corrected.

Protect Staff Inspections
The men and women who operate and maintain a reservoir dam are those most familiar with their dam and inspect it most often. In addition to observing the dam as they perform their routine duties, they conduct weekly and monthly inspections of all important features. They are trained in Dam Safety and get expert help whenever they have a question or concern.

Annual Inspections
Engineers and scientists from the Louisville District office inspect each reservoir dam at least once a year. They inspect critical features and review the condition and performance of the dam with project staff. The engineer or scientist may recommend further investigations or remedial work based on this inspection.

Periodic Inspections
Every reservoir dam gets a comprehensive inspection once every five years by an experienced team of engineers and scientists from the District Office. Engineers from the Ohio River Division Office normally participate as well. The inspection team members are knowledgeable in the design, construction and maintenance of the dam. The team inspects all parts of the structure; all gates, valves and operating equipment are inspected and tested. The inspection findings and recommendations are documented in a formal report and submitted to Corps offices in Cincinnati, Ohio and Washington, D.C. for review and approval. If the inspection team recommends remedial actions, the work is scheduled and completed as soon as possible.


Reservoir dams in the Louisville District are equipped with instruments to monitor conditions in critical areas. Just as abnormal temperature or blood pressure indicate human illness, there are measurements to indicate abnormal conditions in a dam. Dams have instruments to measure water pressure, seepage and movements. These instruments are read at regular intervals and the data are evaluated by engineers and scientists for signs of distress in the dam; the data are also compared with assumptions made during design of the structure. The data and evaluations are documented in the periodic inspection report as a permanent record of the dam’s performance. 

National Inventory of Dams

The National Inventory of Dams (NID) is the central repository for information about dams in the U.S. and its territories that meet specific criteria. The congressionally authorized database shows the location of these dams and serves as a resource to support awareness and preparedness for a dam-related emergency. USACE is responsible for maintaining the NID and closely collaborates with federal and state dam regulating agencies to obtain accurate and complete information about dams in the database. More information is available in the NID Overview fact sheet and by visiting

Flood Inundation Maps for USACE Dams

Flood inundation maps show possible flooding near dams. USACE creates and shares flood inundation maps for its dams to promote awareness and planning and emergency response activities before a flood occurs. Consistent with Engineer Circular 1110-2-6075, USACE will publicly share flood inundation maps for its dams. These maps are viewable within the NID. More information is available in the Dams and Flood Inundation Maps fact sheet and by visiting

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