USACE Supports National Dam Safety Awareness Day

Published May 31, 2019

“Dams are essential to the economic and social productivity of our communities and nation.  They contribute to a stronger economy, environment and quality of life for all Americans.” James C. Dalton, Director of Civil Works, HQ USACE

On May 31, 1889, the South Fork Dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, failed, making it our nation’s worst dam failure. More than 2,200 people died. Now, every May 31, we observe National Dam Safety Awareness Day, which encourages and promotes individual and community awareness and responsibility, and best practices for dam safety. An additional goal is to raise awareness of the benefits dams offer to communities. While dam safety is the dam owner’s responsibility, the consequences of a failure are shared by many, which leads to the need for increased awareness about dam safety.

Dam safety has been a major goal since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began building dams in the 1840s. USACE delivers responsible ownership and operation through continuous assessment, management and communication by dam safety professionals at all levels. Our dam safety investment plan prioritizes limited resources through an understanding of the respective project’s potential risks and the benefits it provides.

USACE operates and maintains more than 700 dams, which are part of USACE’s approximately 3,000 assets. They provide enormous benefits to the nation, are essential to the economic and social productivity of our communities and the nation, and contribute to an annual return of approximately $34B to the treasury and $112B in overall net economic benefits to the nation. Additionally, USACE dams provide clean water for residential, business and agricultural use. USACE is also the largest provider of zero-emission hydropower in the U.S. and its dams provide efficient transportation for moving large exports of corn, wheat, and soy from U.S. farmers to the world. Its more than 400 recreation sites are easily accessible to millions of people of all ages and these visitors contribute $11 billion to local economies and support 189,000 jobs annually.

USACE is proud of its accomplishments and dam safety record of no catastrophic dam failures. National Dam Safety Awareness Day provides the opportunity to consider how each of us and our communities can recognize the importance of risk awareness, knowing and understanding the risks and benefits associated with dams, and take action to help reduce risk from living near a dam.

Key Messages

Facts & Figures

  • While dam failures are a rare event in the US, risks remain and the consequences of dam failure can be massive in lives lost, economic and environmental damages.
  • Living with dams is a shared responsibility and requires constant assessment, communication, engagement and management.
  • Know your risk: contact your local emergency management agency or state dam safety official.
  • Know your role: have an emergency preparedness plan for you and your family; and practice it.
  • Take action: know your evacuation route; talk to neighbors; purchase flood insurance.
  • There are more than 90,000 dams in the United States, of which four percent are owned by the federal government.
  • USACE operates and maintains:
  • More than 700 dams.
  • Six of the ten largest reservoirs in the U.S.
  • Six of the ten largest embankment dams in the U.S.
  • 24 percent of all federally-owned dams
  • USACE is the largest owner and operator of hydroelectric power plants in the U.S., producing 24 percent of the nation’s hydropower. 
  • Average age of USACE dams is 61 years.
  • For more information on USACE’s dam safety mission, visit