Failures and Incidents at Dams

How Do Dam Failures and Incidents Affect Society and How Can We Learn From Them?

Hundreds of dam failures have occurred throughout U.S. history. These failures have caused immense property and environmental damages and have taken thousands of lives. As the nation’s dams age and population increases, the potential for deadly dam failures grows.locationmap_20111209_WithASDSODams (2)_1.png

No one knows precisely how many dam failures have occurred in the U.S., but they have been documented in every state. From Jan. 1, 2005 through June 2013, state dam safety programs reported 173 dam failures and 587 "incidents" - episodes that, without intervention, would likely have resulted in dam failure.

The map at right is based on a (non-comprehensive) list of dam failures compiled by ASDSO. The map demonstrates that dam failures are not particularly common but they do continue to occur. Locations are approximate.

The large red dot on the Gulf Coast represents the New Orleans levee failures resulting from Hurricane Katrina. A few other levee failures are included on this illustration. If levee failures from the 1993 Midwest Floods were included, more failures would be indicated in the center of the map.

Below is an excerpt from the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2017 Infrastructure Report Card detailing the importance of public safety and proper maintenance:

"In order to improve public safety and resilience, the risk and consequences of dam failure must be lowered. Progress requires better planning for mitigating the effects of failures; increased regulatory oversight of the safety of dams; improving coordination and communication across governing agencies; and the development of tools, training, and technology. Dam failures not only risk public safety, they also can cost our economy millions of dollars in damages. Failure is not just limited to damage to the dam itself. It can result in the impairment of many other infrastructure systems, such as roads, bridges, and water systems. When a dam fails, resources must be devoted to the prevention and treatment of public health risks as well as the resulting structural consequences."

Make sure to visit 'Dams 101' to learn about the most common types of dam failures! Click here

For more specific information, including case studies and lessons learned, visit

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