Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program Overview

The Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program was established in 1977 with the passage of the S.C. Dams and Reservoirs Safety Act. The failure of the dam upstream of the Toccoa Falls Bible College in Georgia right after passage of the South Carolina Act gave a great deal of impetus to get the program started. This dam failed unexpectedly and caused the loss of many lives and a great deal of property damage.

Dams are regulated under this law if they meet one of the following criteria:

  • 25' in height
  • Impounds 50 ac-ft or more
  • Dams whose potential failure may cause loss of human life

Once a dam is determined to meet one of these criteria the dam is classified based on potential loss of human life or property damage in the event of failure or improper operation of the dam. Each regulated dam is assigned a hazard classification:

Class I Class II Class III
High Hazard Significant Hazard Low Hazard
Dam failure would likely result in loss of life. Dam failure wouldn't likely result in loss of life but property, roads, and other key infrastructure would be damaged. Dams failure may cause minimal property damage to others. Loss of life is not expected.

The classification of a regulated dam guides design flood that the dam's spillway must pass, sets the need for an Emergency Action Plan and establishes the frequency that DHEC Dam Safety Program staff will inspect the dam.

Dam Safety program staff inspecting dam

State law and regulation require submission of plans and specifications and a written permit before a dam regulated under this program may be built, altered, or removed. Dams which are either 25 feet or more in height or impound (hold back) 50 acre-feet or more are regulated by DHEC unless exempted by state law.

The Dam Safety and Stormwater Permitting Division of the Bureau of Water are responsible for administering the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program. Since 1977 numerous permits have been issued to construct, alter, repair, or remove dams in S.C. DHEC Dam Safety Program staff conduct construction inspections and final inspections to ensure all work is performed according to the approved plans and specifications. Before a regulated dam or reservoir can be placed into operation, a written authorization to begin operations must be granted by the program.

The EA Regional Offices are responsible for routine inspections and classification checks on dams. Routine inspections are performed on high hazard and significant hazard dams, and classification checks are done for low hazard dams by checking the area below the dams. Enforcement actions are used by the Bureau when necessary to ensure permits are obtained when required and to ensure compliance with permits. Bureau and Regional Office staff are available to give talks and presentations on the different aspects 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.


Map of the seven dam inspection regions of SC

During Emergency Situations, Dam Safety Program Staff are available 24-7 at (803) 898-1939

Related Topics

Links to non-DHEC organizations found at this site are provided solely as a service to our users. The links do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations or their programs. DHEC is not responsible for the content of the individual organization web pages found at these links.


Dams & Reservoirs Environment