Risk Analysis and Management of Dam Safety

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

The current safety criteria for a high hazard dam focus on protecting the dam during a large flood. While protecting the dam does help to protect downstream people and property, the two objectives are not the same. Instead, the criteria should focus on lowering property damage (including damage to the dam) and preventing flood deaths.

High hazard dams must survive a design flood in the current safety criteria. However, experts don't agree on the size of the peak flow that meets this criteria.

Statistical hydrologists have proposed an alternative to using professional judgment to specify the design flood. Unfortunately, peak flow distributions cannot be estimated with confidence for extreme floods given available data.

A major safety goal is to prevent deaths from floods. Preventing deaths is a major reason for constructing the spillway to handle extreme floods so that the dam doesn't fail due to overtopping. However, even if the dam doesn't fail, the spilled floods could cause many deaths. A better approach is to warn people to get them out of harm's way if a flood is coming.

Retrofitting existing dams that could pass a “probable maximum flood” (PMF) when built is almost never a good use of funds. Instead, funds would be spent better by focusing on preventing damage from small floods, lowering the damage from medium-sized floods, and warning people in the event of a flood that could pose risks to life.




Published In

Risk Analysis , 18, 4, 455-462.