Dam safety in Florida is a shared responsibility among the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the regional water management districts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), local governments and private dam owners. The State Dam Safety Officer coordinates the activities of the Florida Dam Safety Program (FDSP) from within the Engineering, Hydrology and Geology Program within the Division of Water Resource Management, in Tallahassee. The program receives federal funding from the National Dam Safety Program or NDSPA (PL 109-460). The NDSPA funds provide training, technical assistance, research and support to states through incentive grant awards that encourage states to improve their programs. It is administered through the Mitigation Directorate at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The current Dam Safety Officer is Art Sengupta, PE, PG. The State Dam Safety Officer is the state representative to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO).
Information gathering and reporting are conducted by the Florida Dam Safety Program to maintain information for over 1,200 federal and non-federal dams. The dam information data and supporting statistics are periodically uploaded to the National Inventory of Dams (NID). Emergency Action Plans are stored in our offices and assistance is provided to dam owners who are unable to prepare these plans on their own. Dam safety training is provided by the FDSP for state, regional and local regulatory agency personnel and dam owners, with the assistance of the ASDSO, in accordance with the performance requirements of the dam safety grant provided through the National Dam Safety Program led by the FEMA. Dam inspections in Florida are conducted by agency personnel at the state, regional and local levels, as related to their respective regulatory programs, as well as by private dam owners. Oversight for phosphate mining and similar industrial impoundment is primarily the responsibility of DEP. Other dams generally fall within the purview of the USACE, the state’s five regional water management districts, or local government agencies.
Dams are a critical part of the nation’s infrastructure and provide vital benefits such as flood protection, water supply, hydropower, irrigation and recreation. Yet these dams have the potential for failure and tragic consequences. As downstream development of dams increases and dams continue to age and deteriorate, they demand greater attention and investment to ensure their safety. Federal law and the ASDSO Model State Dam Safety Program define a dam as “any artificial barrier, including appurtenant works, which impounds or diverts water, and which (1) is twenty-five feet or more in height from the natural bed of the stream or watercourse measured at the downstream toe of the barrier, or from the lowest elevation of the outside limit of the barrier, if it is not across a stream channel or watercourse, to the maximum water storage elevation; or (2) has an impounding capacity at the maximum water storage elevation of fifty acre-feet or more. This definition does not apply to any such barrier which is not in excess of six feet in height, regardless of storage capacity or which has a storage capacity at maximum water storage elevation not in excess of fifteen acre-feet, regardless of height, (PL 92-367; Dam Safety Act of 1972) unless such barrier, due to its location or other physical characteristic, is likely to pose a significant threat to human life or property in the event of its failure.” (PL 99-662, Water Resources Development Act of 1986).
Below is a sketch of a dam with its parts labeled (courtesy New Hampshire State Dam Safety manual).
The following activities were conducted nationally by FEMA as part of dam safety activities.
$3.25 million over five years in training assistance to state engineers;
$9 million over five years in research funds to identify more effective techniques to assess, construct and monitor dams;
$38.7 million over five years split among the states, based on the relative number of dams in each state, to make improvements in programs moving toward satisfying all of the 13 basic statutory authorities and programmatic functions identified in the NDSPA; and
$3.75 million over five years for the National Inventory of Dams.
The National Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act
The National Dam Rehabilitation and Repair Act has been introduced into the 110th Congress as HR 1098. This program would provide $200 million over four years in federal grant funds to be cost-shared at 65 percent federal to 35 percent state/local for non-federal publicly owned dams.
The Florida Emergency Action Plan Template and Instruction Manual are available for download. Dam safety in Florida is regulated through several rules, which vary by activity and location. Anyone who owns an existing dam that needs to be repaired or plans to build a new dam may need a permit to authorize the work.
An individual Environmental Resource Permit (ERP) is required for the construction, alteration, repair or abandonment of dams. This can apply to dams that create recreational ponds or lakes, as well as stormwater treatment facilities. Note that the ERP permits are generally authorized by the water management districts or the department, depending on its use.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is the state’s lead agency for environmental management and stewardship – protecting our air, water and land. The vision of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is to create strong community partnerships, safeguard Florida’s natural resources and enhance its ecosystems.