Dam Safety

Background:  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates over 700 dams nationwide that serve a variety of purposes. These include holding and releasing water to reduce flood risks, providing water supply for municipal and irrigation uses, and generating hydropower. Supporting navigation, recreation, environmental stewardship, and many combinations of these purposes can be found at these projects across the country. The Omaha District currently owns and operates 28 dams and reservoir project across five states.

Although dams do not completely eliminate flood risk, Omaha District takes proactive steps to manage the storage and release of water from its dams to reduce risk to life, property, critical infrastructure, and the environment during both normal dam operations and extreme floods.

The Omaha District Dam Safety Program consists of:

  • Regular inspections by on-site project personnel.
  • Regular maintenance and repairs to ensure continued safe operation.
  • Evaluation of the performance of the dam through the collection, interpretation, and evaluation of data from monitoring instruments.
  • Annual inspections performed by project personnel and District dam safety engineers.
  • More thorough periodic inspections performed every five years by dam technical experts from across USACE and government officials from outside USACE to include review of all components of the.
  • Evaluation of potential risks identified through periodic assessments completed in conjunction with periodic inspections every 10 years. 
  • Special inspections performed during high water events, seismic events, and other unusual conditions.
  • Emergency action planning and exercises unique to each dam.
  • Communicating dam risks to state and local agencies and communities so they can make informed decisions about further improving their safety.

In addition, USACE considers the potential consequences of dam failure. For example, a dam failure upstream of a large metropolitan area like Denver is more likely to cause major threats to human safety and property damage than a dam in a rural area. Many dam safety issues can be addressed through normal maintenance. Some, however, require extensive and expensive modifications. The evaluation of alternatives to reduce risks and then take the recommended actions can take many years.

During this time, teams of engineers, maintenance specialists, park rangers, and others work closely with state and local emergency management agencies with responsibilities in communities potentially affected by high flows to improve preparedness, evacuation planning, and public awareness of flood risks. This continuous risk assessment, communication, and management demonstrates USACE’s commitment to dam safety.  

For more information about the USACE Dam Safety Program, visit: www.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Dam-Safety-Program.

Be Prepared

USACE urges property owners and those living and working near rivers and downstream from dams to understand their level of risk and take preparedness actions. 
For virtually all emergencies, county emergency management offices are the first sources of information—the first responders—and the designated authorities for deciding upon and announcing evacuations. Contact your county of residence to learn about their notification system.

Counties can declare emergencies and request support from the state in which they are located.  If the emergency is of sufficient magnitude, the state may request federal assistance, including USACE emergency response expertise.

People should always remain aware of the dynamic nature of water and storms.  Relying on dams isn’t a substitute for smartly managing one’s property and being prepared for an emergency. 

Here are some resources to learn more about dam safety and flood preparedness

The Federal Emergency Management Agency administers the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides access to flood insurance for individuals and businesses.

Through the NFIP and programs such as the Community Rating System (CRS), communities can learn about and take actions to reduce flood risk (and lower their flood insurance premiums) in their communities.

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials provides education, preparedness and other resources on their Awareness Center website

Learn more about federal agencies’ roles and specifically what actions USACE takes across the country with a visit to the USACE Dam Safety Program website.

Water passes through Gavins Point Dam to help balance storage with flows for the reduction of downstream flood risks.
Dam safety inspectors walk the earthen embankment of Fort Peck Dam.

Introduction to Omaha District Dams

The Omaha District manages the safety program for 28 USACE-owned dam and reservoir projects and 8 secondary, or ancillary, structures. Most of these projects were built for the primary purposes of reducing risk, or threats, to downstream populations and property. Today, they help protect over 3 million residents.   

Six dams on the main stem Missouri River and many smaller dams along Missouri River tributaries were built between 1932 and 1957. Four of these rank among the top 10 largest reservoirs in USACE’s inventory. Along with a system of federal and private levees, these dams reduce flood risks for urban and agricultural property and lives throughout the Missouri River watershed.  

Three Omaha District dam and reservoir projects in the greater Denver, Colorado metropolitan area reduce flood risk to the lives and property along and near the South Platte River, Cherry Creek, and Bear Creek.

Find more information about all of these dams: https://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/Dam-and-Lake-Projects/

Learn more about the goals and roles of reducing flood risk: https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/utils/getfile/collection/p16021coll11/id/6814

National Inventory of Dams

A dam is a structure that is built across a river or body of water to hold, divert, or regulate water. Often the body of water stored behind a dam is referred to as the reservoir or lake.

The National Inventory of Dams (NID) documents all known dams in the U.S. and its territories that meet certain criteria. It is designed to provide a variety of users the ability to search for specific data about dams in the U.S. and serves as a resource to support awareness of dams and actions to prepare for a dam-related emergency.

Click The Image Below For More InformationThe National Inventory of Dams (NID)

National Levee Database

levee is a man-made structure, usually an earthen embankment, designed and constructed in accordance with sound engineering practices to contain, control, or divert the flow of water to reduce risk from temporary flooding. 

The National Levee Database (NLD) is the authoritative resource for information about levees in the United States The NLD is intended to be a primary information resource for federal, state and local governments, agencies, and organizations, as well as the general public.

Click The Image Below For More InformationThe National Levee Database (NLD)