Dam and Levee Guidance




National Dam Safety Program

The National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) is a partnership of the States, Federal agencies, and other stakeholders that encourages and promotes the establishment and maintenance of effective Federal and state dam safety programs to reduce the risks to human life, property, and the environment from dam related hazards.  Additionally, the National Dam Safety Review Board (NDSRB) has been established to advise the FEMA Administrator in setting national dam safety priorities and considers the effects of national policy issues affecting dam safety.  Review Board members include FEMA, the Chair of the Board and representatives from four federal agencies (U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Interior), five state dam safety officials, and one member from the private sector.  National Inventory of Dams Congress first authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to inventory dams in the United States with the National Dam Inspection Act of 1972.

The NID was first published in 1975, with a few updates as resources permitted over the next ten years.  The Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-662) authorized the Corps to maintain and periodically publish an updated NID, with reauthorization and a dedicated funding source provided under the Water Resources Development Act of 1996.  USACE also began close collaboration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state regulatory offices to obtain more accurate and complete information.  The National Dam Safety and Security Act of 2002 and the Dam Safety Act of 2006 reauthorized the National Dam Safety Program and included the maintenance and update of the NID by USACE.  Most recently, the NID was reauthorized as part of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.  The NID is published every two years.  (http://nid.usace.army.mil/


National Dam Safety Program releases the Dam Incident Planning Guide

November 21, 2019

FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) has released its newest publication – Emergency Operations Planning: Dam Incident Planning Guide.  The Dam Incident Planning Guide supports state, local, tribal, and territorial emergency managers in planning for dam incidents and failures by summarizing the concepts that a community should consider when creating dam incident-specific elements of local emergency operations plans. 

This Guide is intended to help community planners create a plan to respond to dam incidents that take place in, or affect, their communities.  Some communities will choose to address dam incidents in an annex to their emergency operations plan or comprehensive emergency management plan or as an appendix to other base planning products, or they will create a stand-alone dam incident plan.  A general template is included in Appendix A for a community dam incident plan that can be adapted to meet each community’s needs.

The NDSP offers a Dam Safety Collaborative Technical Assistance (CTA) program.  Through this program, emergency managers work collaboratively with neighboring communities, agencies, and the private sector to gain a detailed understanding of the risks they face from local and regional dams and how those risks can be addressed.  A key product of the CTA program is a completed dam incident plan or annex, which this guide has been produced to inform this process and help dam owners and operators to engage with emergency managers prior to an incident to ensure a well-coordinated response.


Learn more!


National Inventory of Dams Now Available to the Public

February 2019

What once was a highly restricted database that required requesting special access, the National Inventory of Dams (NID), is now open and available for public download.  The NID is a congressionally authorized database documenting dams in the United States and its territories.  It is maintained and published by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and in collaboration with the FEMA aims to obtain more accurate and complete information.

The NID was populated using the 116th Congressional District information and all charts, queries and maps reflect the most current NID database. State and federal dam regulators provided their data from May to November 2018 for inclusion in the 2018 database.

Major changes to the 2018 NID allow users to download or export certain NID data and to view the hazard potential classification.  State or federal agencies may restrict access to information on dams within their jurisdiction, so for information not published in the NID, USACE recommends consulting the agency exercising responsibility over the dam.  The hazard potential classification, as published in the NID, does not reflect the condition of a dam.  That information can be found in the condition assessment, which is available to approved government users.  Historically, the NID has been published every two years.  Starting in 2019, the NID will be updated annually.

The goal of the NID is to include all dams in the U.S. that meet specific criteria, yet, is limited to information that can be gathered and properly interpreted with the given funding.  The NID initially consisted of approximately 45,000 dams, which were gathered from extensive record searches and some feature extraction from aerial imagery.  Since continued and methodical updates have been conducted, data collection has been focused on the most reliable data sources, which are the many federal and state government dam construction and regulation offices and now is up to 90,000 dams.  In most cases, dams within the NID criteria are regulated (construction permit, inspection, and/or enforcement) by federal or state agencies, who have basic information on the dams within their jurisdiction.

The NID consists of dams meeting at least one of the following criteria:

(1) High hazard potential classification – loss of human life is likely if the dam fails;

(2) Significant hazard potential classification – no probable loss of human life but can cause economic loss, environmental damage, disruption of lifeline facilities, or impact other concerns;

(3) Equal or exceed 25 feet in height and exceed 15 acre-feet in storage;

(4) Equal or exceed 50 acre-feet storage and exceed 6 feet in height.

Link to National Inventory of Dams (army.mil).


New Flood Mapping Tool Helps Officials, Residents Manage Risk Near High-Hazard Dams

August 7, 2020

Online map shows nearly 17,000 homes and businesses within dam inundation zones

Gov. Andy Beshear and Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman today announced an online mapping tool that will provide important information to local officials and first responders for developing emergency response plans for high-hazard dams.

“It’s critical that we plan and prepare for emergencies, in addition to taking every step we can to prevent them from happening in the first place,” said Gov. Beshear.  “This new tool will help our local officials and heroic first responders better serve and protect Kentucky families and businesses.”

The interactive map on the Kentucky Water Maps Portal identifies the approximate area, or inundation zone, at each of the dams assessed that is expected to be impacted in the event of a dam failure. The online tool uses satellite imagery which identifies properties, roads and geographic areas that could potentially be impacted in relation to the established FEMA flood zone.  The assessment identified nearly 3,000 business structures and almost 14,000 residences within the Commonwealth’s high-hazard dam inundation zones.

Dam-related hazard classifications (low, significant, and high) are categorized not by their physical condition but by their potential to inundate residences and businesses in the event of a dam failure.  A dam is classified as “high-hazard” when there are residences, businesses and other structures within its inundation zone that could cause loss of life or serious damage to houses, industrial or commercial buildings, important public utilities, main highways or major railroads.


Dam Safety Warning Signs Best Practices

September 2021

FEMA’s Dam Safety Warning Signs Best Practices is a compilation of existing leading practices from industry leaders including the United States Society on Dams (USSD), Association of State Dam Safety (ASDSO), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Federal Highway Administration (FHA), Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), Canadian Dam Association (CDA), American International Standards Institute (ANSI) and more.

These best practices outline the process for identifying the need for safety signage, designing and implementing the signs and continually monitoring and assessing their effectiveness. This document encourages the use of proven and researched safety signage practices from industry leaders to promote stronger public safety practices around dams and reduce the loss of life.  While readers are encouraged to contact the authority responsible for the dam, in the absence of any standards, this document can be used by any dam owner, operator, regulatory agency or member of the general public who is interested in increasing public safety around dams through the use of safety signage.

Download the Dam Safety Warning Signs Best Practices click here.

Also link to the fema_dam-warning-signs-Fact Sheet


Frequently Asked Questions on Removal of Obsolete Dams

January 2017

There is a growing awareness in the U.S. of the need to address obsolete dams that impair our waterways.  Removal of these dams has been on the rise in the United States for a variety of reasons, including ecological restoration, economic development of communities, addressing concerns with localized flooding, improvement of recreational opportunities, restoration of fish spawning and migration, and addressing safety issues for recreational users due to dangerous hydraulics. 

In support of these efforts and in response to an increase in the number of inquiries regarding EPA policies, regulations, and potential funding opportunities as they relate to removal of obsolete dams, the EPA is providing the following answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Link to: FAQs on Removal of Obsolete Dams (PDF) (15 pp, 524 K, December 2016, EPA-840-F-16-001).


National Dam Safety Program Publications

variety of publications to include federal guidelines, technical manuals and fact sheets.


Levee Publications and Resources

Link to read about levees and risk and so that you can easily print.


Living with Levees

Link to Living With Levees

To help understand the realities of levee risk, FEMA provides community outreach tools and construction guidelines related to levee risk


High Water Mark Initiative

Link to High Water Mark Initiative

The High Water Mark Initiative is a community-based awareness program that increases local communities’ awareness of flood risk and encourages action to mitigate that risk.


FEMA’s Tools and Templates

Use FEMA’s tools and templates to better understand the relationship between levees, flood risks and insurance


Understand the Reality of Levee Risk

Explore information on levee risk and taking action to prepare for levee-related flooding by stakeholder group. Follow the links.