Dam Owner Responsibilities
Liability and Responsibility Rest with the Dam Owner
Who Owns the Dams?
Breakout of Califormia Dam Ownership
Source: National Inventory of Dams 2013
Breakout of U.S. Dam Ownership
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes in its overview of dam ownership in the United States that Dam owners are responsible for the safety and the liability of the dam and for financing its upkeep, upgrade, and repair.
Although most infrastructure facilities, such as roads, bridges, and sewer systems, are owned by public entities, the majority of dams in the United States are privately owned. In general, very large dams are owned and regulated by the Federal Government.
Given the diffuse nature of dam ownership versus regulation in the United States, it is apparent that dam safety and security are often not solely a federal, state, or local issue. The safety and security of a dam can affect persons and property across local, state, and even national borders. An incident in one area can affect commerce, navigation, and power generation and distribution, or it can cause severe damage in another area.
For most dam owners and managers, a failure of their dam would be a personal as well as a legal calamity. Many owners are local residents and know the people, businesses, schools, and other institutions that would be impacted by an inundation.
California NRCS and Neighborhood Dams
When a watershed dam is originally built as part of a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service) cost-sharing program the dam owner is required to have an EAP. Sponsors and owners of these dams who do not provide an EAP may be at greater liability if there is a breach or if the current hazard classification does not reflect the risk to others. About 15 years ago, a NRCS report projected that 15 of the dams in California will have reached their 50-year design life by now. Some likely have homes or other buildings downstream and need to be upgraded to meet current dam safety laws to protect people and property.
Two-thirds of California's dams are privately owned. Many are HHP dams owned by individuals or homeowners associations (HOAs). These HOA dam owners are often unaware that they own a dam, and thus unaware of the maintenance and repair requirements.