The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Branch of Safety of Dams (SOD) administers routine dam safety activities to its portfolio of dams across Indian Country.

All dam safety activities are part of SOD’s risk-informed decision-making process. Regular risk assessments for the SOD portfolio of dams evaluate dam safety issues, analyze the likelihood of dam incidents, and assess the consequences of dam incidents. SOD uses these factors to prioritize dam safety activities and make safety investments in its portfolio of dams.

The goal of risk-informed decision making in administering dam safety activities is to protect the lives and property of downstream residents by reducing the likelihood of dam failure throughout Indian Country.

Portfolio of Dams Eligibility

Dams are included in the SOD portfolio of dams based on two eligibility factors:

  1. The dam must be located on Indian land (including both trust land and restricted fee land).
  2. The structure must meet SOD’s physical requirements to be considered a “dam.” The structure must be:
    • 6 feet tall or higher and have at least 50 acre-feet of reservoir storage, or
    • 25 feet tall or higher and have at least 15 acre-feet of reservoir storage.

Full eligibility information is included in 55 IAM-H: Safety of Dams Program Handbook.

Dams included in the SOD portfolio are each given a hazard potential classification study and categorized as “high,” “significant” or “low” hazard. Based on their assessed hazard level, dams may qualify for the following routine activities:

Inspections and Evaluations

Ongoing, periodic dam inspections are critical to determine the condition and safety of dams. SOD performs annual inspections of its portfolio of dams to identify deficiencies related to dam safety, public safety, security and operations.

Dam evaluations provide the necessary risk assessments to enable risk-informed decision making. SOD performs both periodic reviews and lengthier, multidisciplinary comprehensive reviews of dams on a regular schedule determined by the dam’s previously assessed hazard potential.

Tufa Stone Dam, San Carlos Indian Reservation, AZ
Tufa Stone Dam, San Carlos Indian Reservation, AZ.

Emergency Management

Emergency management for the SOD portfolio of dams involves prevention and mitigation, emergency preparedness, emergency response, and post-incident recovery for dams.

The primary focus of SOD’s emergency management is creating Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) to help save lives and minimize property damage. EAPs are formal documents that prepare Tribes and emergency responders to take action to respond to a dam emergency. EAPs guide responsible officials to detect problems, mitigate and respond to incidents, coordinate with emergency responders and issue warnings to affected members of the public.

EAPs must be prepared according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety. All high-hazard and significant-hazard dams in the SOD portfolio are required to have an EAP.

Chester Lake Dam, Anette Islands Reserve, AK
Chester Lake Dam, Anette Islands Reserve, AK.

Early Warning Systems

Early Warning Systems (EWSs) provide near-real-time remote monitoring of reservoir levels, stream levels, and rainfall at dam sites to supplement onsite observations and reduce the risk and impact of dam incidents. The BIA, with the assistance of Tribes, has installed EWSs for most high- and significant-hazard potential dams.

Data from EWSs are connected to the BIA’s National Monitoring Center (NMC), operated by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the Flathead Indian Reservation. For specified EWS alarms, National Monitoring Center staff make phone calls to designated dam contacts to ensure that alarm messages have been received. The National Monitoring Center is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Maintenance and Repair

SOD performs routine maintenance on its portfolio of dams to keep them from deteriorating into an unsafe condition. Typical dam maintenance includes control of vegetation and rodents, repair of erosion damage or cracked concrete, lubrication of gates and valves, and repair of fences and locks.

For high-hazard potential dams in the SOD portfolio of dams, one-time repairs may be performed to keep the facility operational.

Additional Information

Additional Resources

Contact Us

Branch of Safety of Dams
13922 Denver West Pkwy., Bldg. 54, Ste. 300
Lakewood, CO 80401
Open 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday.