On May 31, 1889, South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania failed, killing 2,200 and leaving thousands more homeless. National Dam Safety Awareness Day was established in 1999 to commemorate this disaster, which remains the worst dam failure in U.S. history.
The focus of this year’s National Dam Safety Awareness Day on May 31 is to encourage the public to learn about the benefits of dams and the risks associated with potential dam incidents and failures. Dam owners are responsible for safely maintaining and operating their dams to manage risks and to prevent catastrophic events. Although dams reduce the risk of damages and loss of life from inundation due to floods, they do not completely eliminate the risk.
Most of the more than 85,000 dams in the U.S. are privately owned. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) owns 704 dams, approximately 80 of which are operated and maintained by the Northwestern Division. USACE dams provide benefits including flood risk management, navigation, hydropower, water supply, fish and wildlife conservation, and recreation.
The USACE Dam Safety Program seeks to ensure that USACE owned and operated dams do not present unacceptable risks to the public, property, or the environment, with the emphasis on people. USACE and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourage the public to be aware of the risks due to both normal dam operations and catastrophic failures and to be prepared in the event of an emergency.