National Dam Safety Awareness Day occurs each year to commemorate the South Fork Dam failure that occurred on May 31, 1889, in Johnstown, PA. The worst dam failure in the history of the United States, this tragic event resulted in the deaths of 2,200 people and left thousands homeless.
National Dam Safety Awareness Day encourages and promotes individual and community responsibility for dam safety. A secondary goal is to promote the benefits dams offer to communities.
Arkansas has historically had major flooding causing millions of dollars of damage to homes, businesses and crops. Damages could have been worse if not for the protection of numerous dams built in the state.
The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) plays a key role in the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP). Arkansas has 1,257 dams in the National Inventory of Dams. NRCS is responsible for 208 small to medium sized dams that were built by NRCS in partnership with local watershed districts. Out of the 208 dams, 52 are classified as High Hazard, 47 as Significant Hazard, and 109 as Low Hazard. Most of the dams are earthen dams constructed to temporarily store floodwater and then slowly release it over a period of several days through spillway pipes in the dams. NRCS has seen 60 dams in the last 10 years have a hazard class change. Out of those 208 dams, 92 of them will exceed their design life by the year 2024. The dams provide an average annual benefit of $51 million from the reduction in flooding around the state.
Dam Safety is and will continue to be a very important part of NRCS. NRCS participated in the establishment of the Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety in 1979, provides leadership for USDA dam safety, and represents the Department on the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety and the National Dam Safety Review Board. NRCS plays a lead partnership role on dam safety activities with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. NRCS set up GeoObserver for Dams and DamWatch to help NRCS and project sponsors maintain robust dam safety efforts.
NRCS and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (ANRC) Dam Safety Office put on a Dam Safety workshop in 2017 for all dam owners in Arkansas to attend and learn more about Dam Safety. Owners of dams are responsible for operating and maintaining the dam in a safe condition to reduce the risk a dam creates. The general rule is that a dam owner is responsible for its safety, and liability can be imposed upon a dam owner for failure to maintain, repair or operate the dam in a safe and proper manner. State law requires that an owner have a permit/approval to construct, repair and/or operate a dam.
For nearly 40 years, the Federal Government has worked to protect Americans from dam failure through the NDSP. The NDSP is a partnership of States, Federal agencies, and other stakeholders to encourage individual and community responsibility for dam safety. NRCS encourages all States and territories to have or support local or statewide events on or around May 31 that educate the public about dam safety.
NRCS also partners with the Association of State Dams Safety Officials (ASDSO) to promote dam safety. Visit the following link to information about National Dam Safety Awareness Day on the ASDSO website: https://damsafety.org/NDSAD or contact your nearest NRCS Service Center http://offices.usda.gov.