Regulatory deadlines lurking around the corner: California’s dam owners work hard to meet 2017 dam safety deadlines

Posted in: Energy, Water

body of water in mountainsOwners of state-jurisdictional dams in California have been working to meet the regulatory deadlines from 2017 dam safety legislation. The California Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) has been working with dam owners to complete, review, and approve dam failure inundation maps. DSOD-approved inundation maps must be included in the dam owner’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and submitted by the regulatory deadline to the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) for review.

California’s dam safety deadlines

Sections 6160 and 6161 of California’s Water Code (effective June 2017) required EAP submittal by certain deadlines. These deadlines are based on the downstream hazard potential classification of the dam, assigned by DSOD:

  • Extremely High Hazard: January 1, 2018
  • High Hazard: January 1, 2019
  • Significant Hazard: January 1, 2021
  • Low Hazard: no EAP required by 2017 legislation

After an EAP is submitted to Cal OES, it will likely go through several rounds of revisions. Cal OES is required to review and comment within 60 days of the initial submittal, and within 30 days of subsequent submittals. There is no statutory timeline for the dam owner to revise and resubmit the EAP.

What has happened since 2017?

The deadline for significant hazard dams is only about ten months away, and DSOD recommends submitting draft inundation maps six months in advance of the EAP deadline. Not all ‘extremely high’ and ‘high’ hazard dams have approved inundation maps today.

In fact, currently only about 30 EAPs and 345 inundation maps have been approved statewide.

Considering the 900+ dams in California with a hazard classification requiring an EAP, there is still a long way to go. Regulators and dam owners alike have struggled to manage the timeframes and amount of critical information to be considered in these documents. Approvals seem to be on an upward trajectory as dam owners and regulators work through this process.

What does this mean for California dam owners?

Hopefully, if you are the owner of an ‘extremely high’ or ‘high’ hazard dam, it won’t mean anything to you because you already met your deadline and have an approved inundation map and EAP, or are very close to approval. If you own a “Significant” hazard dam in California, time is short to get your map approved before the EAP submittal deadline.

If you are in the latter group, it is best to start this process ASAP to cut down expedited mapping and EAP costs, stress, and financial impacts, which may include state-issued fines for non-compliance. Make sure your engineer is very familiar with the regulations and review process for inundation maps and EAPs to reduce agency review times and review iterations.

While there is a fair amount of criticism about the required schedule and its cost impacts to dam owners, agencies and dam owners alike seem to agree that it improves public safety—which is paramount to dam owners and regulators.

Nancy Moricz

About the Author

Nancy Moricz, PE, CFM, is an experienced water resources engineer with a background in flood protection, planning, safety and project management. She has a broad knowledge of water resources, loves new challenges and considers herself a “huge people-person.” Nancy enjoys job diversity and working with a variety of clients to provide personal, accessible and specialized professional relationships centered around their specific needs.

Read more posts by Nancy Moricz

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