National Dam Safety Day focuses on awareness and keeping citizens safe

Nearly 1,000 active dams across the state provide drinking water, recreational opportunities and prevent flooding

On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania failed after several days of heavy rain.  The dam’s failure resulted in the loss of over 2,200 lives.  Each year, May 31st is a day set aside to remember this tragedy, promote dam safety and recognize the benefits that dams offer. Johnstown Flood May 31, 1889

This year the Association of State Dam Safety Officials along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are  working to heighten awareness for dam safety. FEMA and state programs throughout the nation work tirelessly to ensure citizen’s safety.

Kentucky Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Tennessee River on the county line between Livingston and Marshall counties


Kentucky’s dams play an integral role in managing Kentucky’s water resources.  Of the 961 dams on the Division of Water’s inventory, 78 are public water supply dams.  Dams also support communities through:

  • Reducing downstream flooding; which protect lives and properties and lower flood insurance rates for homes and businesses;
  • Providing reservoirs for crop irrigation and livestock watering;
  • Providing electrical power;
  • Providing numerous recreational opportunities, including fishing, boating, swimming, hunting; and
  • Reduction of flooding to agricultural land.

 Kentucky’s dams also present some risk to public safety, especially if these dams are not properly designed, built, and maintained. Kentucky’s Dam Safety Program was established over thirty years ago to approve the design and construction of new dams in the Commonwealth and to complete regular inspections of all dams.  The Division of Water’s Dam Safety Program staff monitors an inventory of 961 active dams.  All of these structures except dams owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer and those actively permitted by the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement are permitted and inspected by the Dam Safety Program.  State and local government agencies owned approximately 200 dams; the majority of Kentucky’s dams are privately owned.

Dam Safety Program inspections ensure the dams are safely maintained and operating properly.  These inspections are critical to the safety of all communities.  Dam Safety Program engineers inspect the structures and note any changes in the condition of the dam as well as any maintenance issues to be addressed.  The Dam Safety program requires dam owners to maintain or improve dams, including repair, redesign and construction as appropriate to ensure dam safety. Construction permits are required for new dams and for major repair of existing dams.  Kentucky has invested capitol construction and mitigation dollars to ensure the safety of state owned dams.

Throughout the history of Kentucky’s Dam Safety Program regulated dams have performed well.  Kentucky has not experienced major damage or loss of life from a dam failure regulated by Division of Water.

Nevertheless, Kentuckians should be aware of the risks posed by dams. The failure of even a small dam can cause significant property damage.

Often when people think of a dam they visualize Kentucky Dam or Hoover Dam. However, nearly 90% of the dams in Kentucky are less than 50 feet tall. People need to remain aware of where dams are located. For instance, if you live near a dam, how close is the dam to your home? Is your home downstream of the dam? If so, it your home located within the modeled dam failure inundation zone? In addition, citizens living in subdivisions that have lakes and dams need to know who is responsible for the dam.  For a listing of dams in the Commonwealth, please access: Dams in Kentucky

The Dam Safety Program seeks new ways to identify and mitigate risk in areas downstream from dams.  Emergency Action Plans (EAP) are developed to inform downstream communities and others such as public water systems what to do in the case of a problem with the structural integrity of a dam, including dam failure or breech. EAPs are in place for a number of dams and Dam Safety Program engineers are working with dam owners and local emergency officials to develop EAPs to help communities prepare for potential problems with the dam.

The Division of Water is partnering with FEMA to use tools through the Risk MAP program to identify and prevent risks from dam failures.  This collaborative effort is designed to better communicate flood risk to local communities.  Risk MAP integrates mapping, risk assessment, planning, and prevention efforts from various federal, state and local entities to achieve better community resilience from natural hazards.

Kentucky’s Dam Safety Program is committed to identifying concerns and ensuring safety of the dams.  On this upcoming National Dam Safety Awareness Day, please share with your community the need to recognize the importance of dam safety.

For further information about the Kentucky Division of Water’s Dam Safety program please contact Ron Gruzesky, PE, LSIT, Dam Safety and Floodplain Compliance Section, at, 502-564-3410 or access this link:

For more information about the largest flooding disaster in the United States please access Johnstown Flood May 31, 1889.

FEMA provides information to the public about dam safety.  For more information, please access these links:

FEMA living With Dams Know Your Risk: , and

FEMA Dam Safety Fact Sheet