Dam Safety Program
The Dam Safety Program is administered by the Division's Dam Safety Branch. The program is managed by a Chief Engineer, who develops program goals and objectives and is responsible for deciding the kind and extent of programs needed to accomplish the objectives, and to assure they are being met. Although the Branch carries out two principal statutorily defined duties; determining the safe storage level of the reservoir dams, and reviewing and approving plans and specifications for the construction and repair of Jurisdictional dams, modern dam safety best-practice includes an assortment of engineering and risk management tools.
Storage of water behind dams is essential in the west, where snowmelt runoff must be captured for use during dry times of the year. The Dam Safety Branch regulates approximately 1800 dams, all of which are filled primarily with snowmelt runoff. With this benefit comes inherent risks that must be managed in the interest of public safety. Dam Safety “Risk” is the product of the likelihood of a dam failure and the consequences of a failure. Colorado Dam Safety works to reduce both the likelihood of failure and the potential consequences through our program activities.
Design Review & Construction Inspection
In order to have safe dams, Colorado dams have to be designed and constructed to be safe. Therefore, the Dam Safety Branch has developed Rules, Guidance documents and Standard Forms for dam design and construction review and approval processes. Plans for Jurisdictional-size dams must be reviewed and approved by the State Engineer before construction. These dams are structures having a statutory height greater than ten feet to the spillway crest, or creating a reservoir with more than 100 acre-feet of water, or covering more than 20 acres at the high waterline. Non-Jurisdictional-size dams are smaller in size than jurisdictional size dams. Plans and specifications are not required for construction, however, filing of a Notice of Intent to Construct a Non-Jurisdictional Water Impoundment Structure is required.
Emergency Preparedness & Consequence Reduction
Emergency preparedness activities to reduce potential consequences of dam failures and incidents include helping owners develop Emergency Action Plans (EAP) and Emergency Operations Plans (EOP), conducting regional EAP exercises and coordinating with state and local emergency managers so they understand dam safety emergencies and can plan for an appropriate response.
Emergency Preparedness and Consequence Reduction Related Links and Documents are found below.
- Assist dam owners and engineers by providing Emergency Action Plan and Emergency Operations Plan Templates
- Assist dam owners with cost sharing inundation mapping grants
- Coordination with Regional Field Managers from the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management
- Coordination with Local Emergency Managers from towns, cities and counties throughout Colorado.
- Regional EAP Exercises for multiple dam owners at once (future topic, after live)
- Local Emergency Managers
- Regional Field Manager Contacts within Homeland Security & Emergency Management
Emergency Preparedness Documents:
Reducing the Likelihood of Dam Failure by following Best Practices
Dam safety engineers' primary tool to reduce the likelihood of failures and incidents is by conducting regular physical inspections of dams. In addition, engineering analyses such as Potential Failure Mode Analysis (PFMA) are used to identify potential latent issues at existing dams, some of which are over 100 years old. Dam Safety Branch engineers are also involved in a range of other activities to ensure best practice methodologies are employed.
Reduce Probability of Failure by following Best Practices Related Links and Documents are found below.
- Comprehensive Dam Safety Evaluation Tools enable Potential Failure Mode Analysis (PFMA) and Semi-Quantitative Risk Assessment (SQRA) analyses
- The CO-NM Regional Extreme Precipitation Study results provide engineers with state-of-the-practice tools to estimate extreme precipitation for spillway design across the state of Colorado.
- The MetPortal is a web-based application that provides precipitation frequency estimates for spillway design across the state of Colorado.
- The Dam Safety Branch has developed “best-practice” Guidance Documents for a range of dam engineering activities.
- Dam Safety Branch engineers regularly collaborate with outside entities on projects of statewide interest. One ongoing project with Colorado State University (CSU) is studying Mountain Hydrology analysis best practices.
- The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) provides resources for state programs, engineers and dam owners
- The Dam Safety Branch coordinates with the Hazard Mitigation Section of the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (CDHSEM) to define high Hazard dam rehabilitation projects that are suitable for grant funding from the various FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs.
- ASDSO Resources for Dam Owners, ASDSO Resources for Engineers & ASDSO Resources for State Programs
- DTN MetPortal: Colorado Regional Extreme Precipitation Frequency Estimation Tool
- FEMA BRIC program
- Mountain Hydrology
- Reclamation Consequence Estimating Methodology (RCEM)
- Western Dam Engineering Newsletters
Transparency & Community Trust Building
Storage of water behind dams is essential in the west, where snowmelt runoff must be captured for use during dry times of the year. The Dam Safety Branch regulates approximately 1800 dams, all of which are filled primarily with snowmelt runoff. With this essential benefit comes inherent risks that must be managed in the interest of public safety. To build trust with the citizens of Colorado who live below dams, the Dam Safety Branch strives to be transparent and provides a range of information about dams that are accessible to the public. Several sources of information about Colorado's dams are provided online through the Division of Water Resources (DWR), Colorado Information Marketplace (CIM) and Colorado Decision Support Systems (CDSS) websites and tools. Although public access to dam documents is limited for security reasons, information related to the current condition of dams and status of current emergency preparedness plans for high and significant hazard dams is contained on the multiple public websites and are updated daily. Links to these are provided in the Applications & Tools section of this page.