California is one of only 10 states that do not require Emergency Action Plans for dams

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines High Hazard dams as “those [dams] where failure or mis-operation will probably cause loss of human life.” The current industry standard is to have Emergency Action Plans for all High Hazard dams, but California does not give the Division of Safety of Dams the authority to require dam owners to prepare one.

According to a report from FEMA’s National Dam Safety Program, only ten states do not give their dam safety agencies the authority to require Emergency Action Plans: Alabama, California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, North Carolina, Vermont, and Wyoming.  The map below, from the FEMA report, shows those states in gray.

The map also shows the percentage of high hazard dams that had Emergency Action Plans. In 2013, only 45% of High Hazard dams in California had Emergency Action Plans. California has some of the largest dams in the country, and major earthquake risks.

1 Percentage of State-regulated High Hazard dams with Emergency Action Plans         Source: FEMA


Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety: Hazard Potential Classification System for Dams,” April 2004.   Available at

Federal Emergency Management Agency, “Dam Safety in the United States:  A Progress Report on the National Dam Safety Program,” August 2014.  Available at

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “National Inventory of Dams database.”  Available at

One thought on “California is one of only 10 states that do not require Emergency Action Plans for dams

  1. I would think after the St. Francis dam catastrophe, March 12, 1928, that all state dams would have an emergency plan. Looks like it was long forgotten and swept under the mat. Imagine what a 3 million acre foot capacity dam would do breaking loose uncontrolled. Almost did happen and no emergency plan as every one panicked to run for their lives. Looks like we all have to learn history repewat itself over the hard way again. As the country can sure fund all states for a pandemic but can’t put together an emergency team and planning for dams? What a shame.

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