DHEC oversees inspections and compliance for nearly 2300 state-regulated dams through the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program. This program falls within DHEC's Bureau of Water and was established in 1977 with the passage of the S.C. Dams and Reservoirs Safety Act .
The State of the Dams: Investment in the protection of South Carolina’s people, natural resources, and infrastructure through dam safety
A report on the state of dam safety in South Carolina
Published: August 20, 2020
From 2015 to the present, South Carolina has been affected by numerous tropical weather systems and non-tropical rainstorms/thunderstorms that have dropped extreme amounts of precipitation in vast areas of the State generally over short periods of time. These events have been felt directly by the owners and operators of state-regulated dams. Back-to-back hurricanes in October 2015 and October 2016 resulted in 70 regulated dam failures statewide. Consequently, SCDHEC undertook an effort to rebuild and reinvigorate the Dam Safety Program, with critical funding from the General Assembly in the form of new one-time and recurring funds. Significant progress has been made in that revitalization effort, although challenges remain. The Dam Safety Program in the Bureau of Water is proud to provide this report – The State of the Dams – to document the progress that has been made, and how the infusions of state funding has been wisely invested, in improving dam safety in South Carolina.
Link to download and view Report
Understanding Dam Classifications
Dams are classified based on their size (large, intermediate, small, very small) and their hazard potential (high, significant, low). For a dam to be regulated and appear in the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program inventory, it must meet at least one of the following criteria and not fall under a regulatory exemption.
A dam can be regulated by the state if it:
- Is 25 feet or greater in height from top to bottom of the structure
- Can impound (hold back) 50 acre-feet or more of water at maximum storage
- Represents a high-hazard potential where improper operation or dam failure may cause loss of human life, regardless of the overall size of the dam
Dams exempted from state regulation are those that meet at least one of the following criteria:
- They do not meet the regulated size and hazard criteria
- They are owned or operated by a department or agency of the federal government
- They are owned or licensed by an appropriate federal licensing agency in the department's judgment, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the United States Army Corp of Engineers
- Where the South Carolina Department of Transportation or a county or municipal government has accepted maintenance responsibility for a road or highway and that road or highway is the only danger to life or property if the dam were to fail
- In the Department's judgment and because of the dam's size and location, there is no significant threat or danger to downstream life or property.
Hazard potential is determined by the department using the best available data and evaluates the potential loss of human life or property damage in the event of failure or improper operation of the dam or associated structures.
- A High-hazard (C1) dam is a structure where failure will likely cause loss of life and/or serious damage to infrastructure.
- A Significant-hazard (C2) dam is a structure where failure will not likely cause loss of life infrastructure may be damaged.
- A Low-hazard (C3) dam is a structure where failure may cause limited property damage.
Under state law and regulations, before a dam that meets regulatory criteria can be built, altered, repaired, or removed plans and specifications must be submitted to the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program for review. Once that review is complete, work can commence after a written permit is issued by the Department. The Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program reviews permit applications while also conducting safety inspections of regulated dams and providing informational and technical assistance to dam owners and operators in South Carolina to ensure their compliance with state laws and regulations.
The program conducts construction inspections and final inspections on permitted projects to ensure all work is performed in accordance with the approved plans and specifications. Before a regulated dam or reservoir can be placed into operation, written authorization must be granted by the program.
The Environmental Quality Control Regional Offices are responsible for routine inspections and classification checks on dams. Routine inspections are performed on high hazard dams every two years and significant hazard dams every three years. The findings of these inspections are provided to dam owners with recommendations or requirements to address deficiencies noted during the inspection. Low hazard dams are not regularly inspected but are evaluated periodically to determine if new hazards have been constructed downstream that may lead to a reclassification of the dam's hazard potential. As necessary, the program also takes enforcement action on dams deemed to be unsafe and to ensure compliance with issued permits.
Dam Owners and Residents
Under state law, dam owners are responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of their dams whether or not their dam is regulated by the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program. While DHEC does not provide engineering or maintenance services, the agency does provide technical assistance and information to help dam owners maintain compliance with safety regulations. Under state law, the owners of High and Significant Hazard potential dams are also required to have and maintain an Emergency Action Plan (EAP).
If you are a dam owner and are considering the alteration, repair or removal of a dam, please visit the dam permitting page .
If you are a resident who lives near or below a dam, please visit www.livingneardams.org .
Be sure to check out South Carolina Dam Safety News .
Dam Safety Program Contacts
For questions or more information, contact:
John M. McCain, P.E., Manager
Phone: (803) 898-8178
Or you can also contact your local EA Regional Office .
Bureau and Regional Office staff are available for presentations on topics related to dam safety and maintenance, state regulations, and other business of the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program. Please send us an email if you are interested in arranging a presentation for a group or class.
During Emergency Situations call the
Dam Safety Program
Staff are available 24/7 at: