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Safety of Dams Branch

The BIA Safety of Dams (SOD) program was established under the Indian Dams Safety Act of 1994, Public Law No. 103-302 (25 U.S.C. § 3801 et seq.). Its mission is to reduce the potential loss of human life and property damage caused by dam failure by making BIA dams as safe as practically possible. It is responsible for all dams on Indian land. These dams form a significant part of water resources and trust assets for Indian reservations.

Dam safety activities include, but are not limited to: (1) risk management and risk reduction; (2) emergency management, including Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) and Early Warning Systems (EWS); (3) inspections and evaluations; (4) maintenance and repairs; and (5) security.

The SOD program manages its portfolio of dams using a risk-informed approach. The primary emphasis is on protecting downstream residents from undue risks by correcting dam structures that are deemed high-risk for failure, utilizing a risk-informed decision process. This process was initiated in 2010. 

Risk-Informed Decision Process

In addition to the activities mentioned above, each BIA SOD Officer has national oversight of the BIA dams within the National Inventory of Dams (NID), and is responsible for ensuring that the list of BIA dams in the NID database is updated each year.

For more information on the SOD program, refer to the Safety of Dams Program Handbook. For information on contracting and compacting with tribes, refer to the Safety of Dams Program Handbook chapter on Contracting and Compacting with Indian Tribes.

SOD Regional Offices

The SOD program has nine Regional Offices: Eastern, Great Plains, Midwest, Navajo, Northwest, Pacific, Rocky Mountain, Southwest, and Western. Each Regional Office has a SOD Officer who works with BIA agency and tribal personnel to carry out SOD program initiatives. For more information on the BIA's Regional Offices, refer to the Indian Affairs Regional Offices web page. 

Emergency Management

Emergency management at BIA dams involves prevention and mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery associated with dam incidents, emergency events, or dam failures at BIA dams.

The main focus of the BIA’s SOD Emergency Management program is on preparedness and response to incidents at BIA dams using EAPs. EAPs are planning documents that are intended to guide BIA and tribal officials through the steps of detection, decision making, and notification. An important component of the EAPs are the Dam Failure Inundation Maps, which are used for planning and execution of emergency response. In general, a dam failure inundation map illustrates the extent of downstream flooding during a simulated dam failure.

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Early Warning Systems

As a measure of risk reduction for high- and significant-hazard potential dams, the BIA, with the assistance of tribes, has installed over 300 real-time Early Warning Systems (EWS) for a majority of BIA dams on Indian Reservations across the United States. These systems provide real-time remote monitoring of reservoir levels, stream levels, and rainfall at dam sites, which can provided information for the early detection of flooding and other conditions that could lead to dam failure. The BIA EWS sites are currently connected to the BIA’s National Monitoring Center (NMC) operated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Ronan, Montana. To request access to view data on the EWS website, please email the EWS Team at EWS@bia.gov. An effective EWS is instrumental in increasing available warning time to communities that may be at risk downstream of BIA dams.

Inspections and Evaluations

Continuous and periodic dam inspections and evaluations are critical to an effective dam safety program. These activities provide important information necessary to determine the overall condition of BIA dams. Annual inspections, Periodic Reviews, and Comprehensive Reviews are periodically scheduled to maintain dam safety at BIA dams. 

Maintenance and Repairs

Maintenance and repairs are performed to keep dams from deteriorating into an unsafe condition. Annual maintenance is performed on EWS and repairs are made on dams with critical repair needs. 

Security

Dam security assessments are performed to ensure adequate security for key dam facilities and structures against credible threats and appropriate protective measures are implemented, as needed.

Dam Safety Training

Dam safety training is critical in order to keep up with advances in dam safety, particularly developments in risk analysis and risk management. It is important for personnel involved with the operation, maintenance, and evaluation of BIA dams to attend annual dam safety training. For more information on the required and recommended dam safety training, refer to the Safety of Dams Program Handbook, Dam Safety Training chapter.  

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