January Deadline for New Dam Safety Regulations

DAM safety regulations

Owners of California dams classified as “extremely high hazard” need to submit updated Emergency Action Plans (EAP) to the state by January 1, 2018 under new dam safety regulations the state legislature passed earlier this year in response to the Oroville Dam spillway crisis.

The looming EAP deadline is complicated by the new law’s requirement that dam inundation maps must be reviewed by the state’s Division of Safety of Dams (DOSD) before the EAP is submitted. The DOSD has been swamped with requests for inundation map reviews.

During last February’s Oroville Dam crisis, the emergency evacuation was delayed because the inundation map and EAP on file did not cover the potential failure of the emergency spillway, a critical appurtenant structure). In response, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 92 to implement new 

February 2017 Oroville Dam spillway failure

dam safety regulations for inundation maps and EAPs for dams and critical appurtenant structures.

The following outlines changes to DOSD regulatory procedures under SB 92 that impact dam owners:

Dam Inundation Maps Maps and associated technical studies now will be reviewed by the DOSD. Previously, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) performed the review. Dam inundation map review is a pre-requisite for submitting an updated EAP. Consequently, it is crucial that the inundation map be completed expeditiously as review times for the DOSD could take up to 2 months due to the number of review requests.

In other changes, previously-exempt debris basins are now subject to dam inundation mapping requirements. Dam safety regulations now are based solely on the dam’s downstream hazard classification. SB 92 mandated that inundation maps be made public, which was not previously required.

Emergency Action Plans Dams classified as “extremely high hazard” by the Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) need submit updated EAPs to CalOES by January 1, 2018. The deadline for updated EAPs for ‘high hazard’ dams is January 1, 2019 and for “significant hazard” dams January 1, 2021.

Prior to SB 92, the state lacked authority to require dam owners to develop EAPs. Dam owners now are required to prepare an EAP, with the exception of DSOD-classified “low-hazard” dams. EAPs must be updated every 10 years or when significant downstream changes occur. EAPs are protected from public disclosure. Once CalOES approves an EAP, dam owners must conduct notification exercises with a local public safety agency.

Fees and Enforcement SB 92 imposes new fees and penalties for non-compliant dam owners and gives the state Department of Water Resources enforcement authority. DWR also has the authority to change fees charged to dam owners for state supervision related to dam safety.

For more information on dam safety regulations, contact us.