National Dam Safety Awareness Day is May 31
NHDES Encourages Residents to Learn about the Benefits and Risks Associated with Dams in their Area
Concord, NH – National Dam Safety Awareness Day occurs each year on May 31 to encourage and promote individual and community responsibility and best practices for dam safety. Another important goal of National Dam Safety Awareness Day is to promote the benefits that dams offer. It was on this day in 1889 when the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, failed and over 2,200 lives were lost. One-hundred-and-thirty years later, it is still the worst dam failure, in terms of loss of life, in the history of the United States.
There are over 2,615 dams in New Hampshire providing a variety of benefits including recreation, wildlife habitat, hydropower, water supply and flood control. However, there are also more than 26,000 homes, 560 state road crossings and 2,500 town road crossings downstream of these dams that could be destroyed or damaged if some of these dams were to fail. Since 1935 the Dam Bureau of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) has been responsible for monitoring the safety of dams throughout New Hampshire by performing design reviews for new and reconstructed dams and inspections on existing structures.
The Dam Bureau is also responsible for the year-round operation and maintenance of over 200 dams owned by NHDES and New Hampshire Fish and Game, and for the repairs needed on all 278 state-owned dams. Another major component of the Bureau's oversight of dams includes working with the owners of dams that pose a significant threat to life and property to ensure that emergency action plans (a plan to define potential dam failure impacts and establish a coordinated response to those impacts) are created, routinely reviewed and periodically tested. All of these functions are meant, ultimately, to reduce the potential for events similar to the one that occurred in Johnstown.
Dams are a vital part of the American infrastructure, providing economic, environmental and social benefits. The benefits of dams, however, can be countered by the risks they sometimes present. Even a small dam is capable of causing loss of life and significant property and environmental damage if it fails.
Preventing another dam failure and raising dam safety awareness is paramount to the success of this year's National Dam Safety Awareness Day. Dam safety is a shared responsibility; you are encouraged to know your risk, know your role, know the benefits of dams, and take action.
You can download a printable copy of the “Living With Dams: Know Your Risks” and “Living with Dams: Extreme Rainfall Events” brochures from the FEMA Library.