DHEC Spotlights Vital Role of its Dams & Reservoirs Safety Program During National Dam Safety Awareness Day
COLUMBIA, S.C. ― With more than 2,300 state-regulated dams across the state, the South Carolina Department of Health of and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Dams & Reservoirs Safety Program plays an important role in helping dam owners keep their structures safe, strong and secure. Proper maintenance and upkeep are essential in reducing the risk of dams and reservoirs failing or overspilling.
Under the South Carolina Dams and Reservoirs Safety Act, dam owners are responsible for preserving the structural integrity of their dams. DHEC staff perform routine inspections and classification checks on dams, and inspectors work closely with dam owners to explain any issues that need addressing to ensure their dams meet all safety standards.
“A key focus of our Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program is to make sure individuals understand the responsibilities that come along with being the owner of a dam,” said John McCain, program manager for DHEC’s Dam Safety and Stormwater Permitting Division. “For owners of high- and significant-hazard dams, part of that responsibility is maintaining an Emergency Action Plan that details the steps and notifications that will be made if a particular dam becomes at risk of failing. DHEC reviews these plans on a regular basis as part of our dam safety oversight.”
While DHEC maintains an up-to-date database of all state-regulated dams and dam owners in the state, establishing dam ownership is one of the biggest challenges the program faces. Over time, as a property is sold and resold, parcel lines are redrawn and easements or rights-of-way change, it can be difficult to definitively know who the owner of a particular dam is. When needed, DHEC staff perform diligent reviews of deeds, plats and other county land records to identify the rightful owner or owners and communicate with them.
When severe weather or other threats occur that could potentially impact a dam’s integrity, DHEC proactively notifies dam owners to begin lowering their water levels or taking other steps that reduce the likelihood of a breach or failure.
“We also make pre-storm assessments of dams that are most at risk during a severe weather event to make sure spillways are cleared and other visible concerns are quickly addressed,” McCain said. “When a hurricane looms, our inspectors are boots-on-the-ground working to make sure dams are in the best possible condition for withstanding severe weather.”
In addition to dam inspections, DHEC thoroughly reviews the specifications that are required to be submitted to the agency before a dam can be built, altered, repaired or removed. Once that review is complete, DHEC issues a permit and the work can begin. DHEC provides an interactive map of all permitted dams in the state at scdhec.gov/dams as well as online resources for dam owners and general information about dam and reservoir safety. Additionally, DHEC’s 2020 State of the Dams report provides a detailed overview of dams, dam safety, relevant state regulations and an overview of the statewide improvements that were made since the 2015 floods.
Dam Safety Awareness Day is recognized each year on May 31 in memory of the 2,220 people who lost their lives in the 1889 South Fork Dam failure near Johnstown, Pa. Learn more at damsafety.org.
As a reminder, June 1 kicks of the Atlantic hurricane season which lasts until November 30 each year. View this video and webpage to learn more about DHEC’s role with hurricanes, floods and weather emergencies, including dams and reservoirs.