Governor Ralph Northam has issued a proclamation recognizing May 31 as Dam Safety Awareness Day in Virginia.
“Dams are an important part of our water resource management, providing benefits such as flood control, irrigation and recreation,” said Governor Northam. “But when a dam fails, the resulting flood can be disastrous for people living downstream. On Dam Safety Awareness Day, I encourage Virginians to increase their knowledge about dams and understand the risks associated with improperly constructed or maintained dams.”
The day coincides with National Dam Safety Awareness Day, which commemorates the nation’s worst dam-related disaster—the May 31, 1889, failure of the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. More than 2,200 lives were lost. The failure was attributed to days of heavy rain and a series of alterations that made the dam unsafe.
Dams can fail for a number of reasons, including overtopping caused by flooding, construction deficiencies or structural failure of materials used to make up the impoundment.
Since 1995, there have been 100 known dam failures in Virginia, resulting in four deaths.
Across the United States, aging dams are an issue. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that by 2025 seven in 10 dams will be 50 years or older.
“As dams age, the need for rehabilitation becomes more vital,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. “Dam owners have the responsibility to ensure proper construction, operation and alteration.”
The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) manages the Virginia Dam Safety Program. Its mission is to protect public safety and ensure that the more than 2,000 dams it regulates operate safely.
The agency’s dam safety engineers are a resource for dam owners, the engineering community, emergency managers and first responders.
“DCR’s staff provides guidance and expertise on the issue of dam safety,” said DCR Director Clyde E. Cristman. “We want to give people the tools they need to keep communities safe and prevent problems before they occur.”
For information about the Virginia Dam Safety Program, go to www.dcr.virginia.gov/dam-safety-and-floodplains/dam-safety-index or contact a DCR dam safety engineer.
More information about National Dam Safety Awareness Day is available at https://damsafety.org/NDSAD.