Members of the US dam safety community converged in Las Vegas recently to discuss the common goal of safe dams and assess developments which are affecting the profession. Over 650 delegates attended the meeting, which was the 15th annual conference of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). A wide variety of interests were covered by the technical programme and papers looked at areas such as risk assessment, structural modifications, analysis of the hazardous nature of dams in urban stormwater ponds and televised inspections of aging flood control structures.

A decade-long dream

This year a decade-long dream of the US dam safety community has become reality. For the first time, money will be available to assist states in improving their dam safety programmes. Funding will also go toward improving the amount of research conducted in the dam safety engineering field. A critical need for continued training in dam safety engineering techniques will be assuaged and the National Inventory of Dams Project will continue in full force.

Two initiatives underpin another successful year for ASDSO. They are:

•Implementation of the National Dam Safety Programme Act.

•Publication of the updated Model State Dam Safety Programme.

Nineteen ninety-eight marked the first year for implementation of the National Dam Safety Programme Act (NDSPA). In order for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to co-ordinate this effort, it brought together the dam safety community, with the help of ASDSO and the Interagency Committee on Dam Safety, to develop working groups. These groups focused on each of the four main areas of the NDSPA: research, training, state assistance grants and the National Inventory of Dams.

Over the year plans and projects were developed in each of these areas to carry out the goals of the Act. The largest portion of the NDSPA is the State Assistance Grants Programme and FEMA established the National Dam Safety Review Board to make recommendations and provide incentive grants to assist states in upgrading their dam safety.

Forty-seven states applied for such grants this year and the National Review Board recommended that all applications be approved for awards.

Changes in standards over time, coupled with the recognition that many areas of the model needed a more objective approach, prompted an update of the Model State Dam Safety Programme. A complete review and update of the manual, which has been used by many states as a benchmark for dam safety over the past six years, was completed in 1997 and published in early 1998, with support from FEMA. The 20-year-old Model Law, developed by USCOLD, was also updated. Updates were distributed to all states to be used as they see fit. The Model will also be used, as authorised in NDSPA, as a guide for states to follow as they upgrade their programmes as part of the States Assistance Grants Programme.

Working relationships

Partnership is a key word in ASDSO’s objective to improve dam safety. Partnering with organisations and individuals involved with dam safety can only strengthen the cause. ASDSO and USCOLD’s joint activities and goals were continued in 1998. The two organisations will work towards mutual goals of participation and endorsement of the National Inventory of Dams and the National Performance of Dams Programme, as well as developing public awareness materials. ASDSO has also continued its work with organisations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Canadian Dam Association.

ASDSO annually surveys the US states to gather data on dam safety programme performance and for basic information on dam failures and removal. This year forty-four states responded to the inquiry which covered the following areas:

•Public awareness and education — Thirty-four states reported that they have improved public awareness or dam owner education by holding state workshops, distributing educational literature or sponsoring displays at state and local fairs or conferences. Some states have also produced web pages.

•Staff training and personnel resources — Six states reported increases in dam safety staffing. Two states reported decreases. Thirty-eight states reported that dam safety staff have participated in technical training over the past year to improve their skills in dam safety engineering.

•State budgets for dam safety — Dam safety budgets in seventeen states increased over the past year. Two states had decreases.

•Changes in state legislation or regulations affecting dam safety — Six states reported that their dam safety or related laws/regulations had been changed over the past year. Of those, three said that the changes would not improve dam safety but two others said they would. Nine states reported that there is legislation pending which could affect dam safety.

•Other improvements — A number of states said they had experienced other improvements in the following areas: increased dam inspections (11); improved remediation of deficient dams (15); and improved co-ordination with emergency officials (14).

Dam failures and incidents

Ninety-eight dam failures or significant incidents at dams were reported across the country over the past year. Fifteen states said that they were able to report all or some of these failures to the National Performance of Dams Programme at Stanford University, the national library of dam performance data.

Association of State Dam Safety Officials

The Association of State Dam Safety Officials was formed in 1983 in response to several massive dam failures in the late 1970s and subsequent national concern over the state of dam safety in the US.
ASDSO’s objectives are to heighten public awareness; to train state personnel in technical areas of interest; and to maintain channels of communication between states, government levels, and between the public and private sectors. The association also produces research documents to keep the dam safety community abreast of current technical and policy issues.
ASDSO’s 16th annual conference will be held in Missouri, US on 10-13 October 1999.