Dam Safety & Security

FERC offers dam owners self-assessment tool

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) offers a new tool to help dam owners assess the effectiveness of their dam safety program.

FERC said owners' dam safety programs are the most important factor in maintaining safe dams and preventing dam failures. Dams with owners who do not have an effective dam safety program represent a higher risk than those with strong programs, FERC said.

Although a good dam safety program might not prevent every conceivable failure mode, a poor program likely can lead to problems, FERC said. Additionally, it said, the effectiveness of the owner's dam safety program must be considered in evaluating the overall risk posed by a dam to downstream communities.

The new assessment tool – a set of about 50 questions – can help an owner evaluate whether its dam safety program is adequate, in terms of organizational practices and technical requirements. The questions are grouped into seven program areas: management policies and expectations; organization, duties, and responsibilities; program quality; internal and external communications and reports; authority of chief dam safety engineer; training; and surveillance and monitoring.

Completion of the assessment is voluntary, and FERC cautions that judgment needs to be exercised when using this tool. The presence or lack of any particular item does not necessarily indicate whether a particular owner’s dam safety program is appropriate, FERC says.

A 2006 peer review of FERC's dam safety program recommended that the commission take steps to ensure that owners understand their responsibilities for dam safety. FERC created the self-assessment tool for dam owners in response to that recommendation.

– The tool and related information, including a description of what FERC wants to see in an owner’s dam safety program, are available on the Internet at:

ASDSO recognizes work on Southern California dam rehab

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) selected Gem Lake Dam, a multiple arch concrete dam in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Region of California, as its 2008 rehabilitation project of the year.

Southern California Edison (SCE) owns the dam, part of the 11.85-MW Rush Creek project, near June Lake, Calif. Rehabilitation of the structure was necessary to address freeze-thaw deterioration on the downstream side of the dam. Deterioration reduced the thickness and integrity of the concrete, leading to lower effective strength and subsequent reduced factors of safety.

SCE evaluated three alternatives to address freeze-thaw conditions, choosing to install a polyvinyl chloride (PVC) geomembrane on the upstream face of the dam. The liner stopped seepage through porous concrete, interrupting freeze-thaw cycles and reducing deterioration.

Installation of the PVC geomembrane, which was completed in 2007, culminates more than seven years of planning and permitting. SCE installed drains behind the liner at the three low points of the dam to evaluate the effectiveness of the installation of the geomembrane.

ASDSO presented the award for the 2008 National Rehabilitation Project of the Year during its annual conference in September, in Indian Wells, Calif.

ASDSO names other award recipients

During the conference, ASDSO also presented four merit awards for outstanding regional contributions to dam safety:

– The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Inland Water Resources Division and its director, Denise Ruzicka, for applying DamWatch software developed by USEngineering to monitor and manage 276 DEP-owned dams during floods (Northeast);

– Georgia's Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority and its general manager, Lindy Farmer, for planning and developing a comprehensive reservoir system to meet current and future demands for water (Southeast);

– James Hadley Williams, retired Missouri state geologist, for volunteering services to the Missouri Dam and Reservoir Safety Program in evaluating the geology of proposed dam sites and assessing geology-related problems at existing dams (Midwest); and

– Dwayne Lillard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District (retired), for expertise and leadership in the dam safety community (West).

Additionally, ASDSO presented its most prestigious award, the national merit award, to Larry Caldwell, Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service state engineer in Oklahoma. The award recognizes individuals who have advanced dam safety nationwide.

Alaska develops EAP for state dam safety program

Emergency action plans, or EAPs, typically are developed for a specific dam. However, an emergency plan also can be developed for an entire dam safety program. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources developed an EAP in an effort to provide continuity of operations during emergency events.

The state plan uses Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines for EAPs for dam owners, but breaks from the suggested outline and adds to it. The state plan is intended to be easy to follow during a crisis, says Alaska dam safety engineer Charles Cobb.

Many project-specific EAPs, Cobb said, fail to detail the state dam safety engineer's role as a state regulator during the emergency. In other cases, emergency situations can occur at dams with no EAP.

In Alaska, for example, only high- and significant-hazard potential dams are required to have an EAP.

Cobb said an EAP for a state dam safety program is helpful in a number of ways. "First and foremost, it allows the state program to plan in advance how it will respond during a dam emergency, with the same benefits that a project-specific EAP is to the dam owner," Cobb said. "When an emergency develops, you don’t have to scratch your head and wonder what to do. The stress of a real emergency is reduced by planning for it, as is the efficiency and efficacy of the response."

State or local emergency operations plans likely are to be short of details to address an emergency associated with a dam, Cobb said. A state dam safety program EAP, he said, can provide specific guidance for various agencies that are most likely to respond. In a situation where multiple dam emergencies develop simultaneously, such as after an earthquake or during a flood, the plan can help keep track of the different emergencies and prioritize the response.

Other states or agencies can adapt the non-proprietary Alaska Dam Safety Program EAP for their own dam safety programs, Cobb said. To request a copy of the plan, write to: Alaska Dam Safety Program, Department of Natural Resources, 550 W. 7th Ave., Suite 1020, Anchorage, AK 99501-3577.

New officers lead dam safety association

Robert Martinez of Nevada is the new president of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). Martinez took office during the organization's 2008 annual meeting in September in Indian Wells, Calif. He succeeds Mark Ogden of Ohio, now immediate past president.

Also serving as 2008-2009 ASDSO officers are David Gutierrez of California (president-elect), James MacLellan of Mississippi (secretary), and John Moyle of New Jersey (treasurer).

Martinez is chief of Engineering & Dam Safety in the Nevada Division of Water Resources. He previously served as ASDSO president-elect and secretary.

Gutierrez is chief of the Division of Safety of Dams in the California Department of Water Resources. He previously served as ASDSO treasurer.

MacLellan is state dam safety engineer for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Moyle is manager of the Dam Safety Section in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Ogden, the immediate past president, is administrator of dam safety engineering in the Division of Water, Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

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