The ins and outs of Ohio dam safety


Did you know that there are approximately 1,665 jurisdictional dams located in the state of Ohio? More than 95 percent of these are owned by local landowners or other entities other than the state of Ohio.

You may not realize it, but if you are the owner of a dam, the responsibility for maintaining a safe dam rests with you. If a dam failure were to occur, you would be responsible and liable.

Dams and levees provide the citizens of Ohio with several benefits including; water supply, flood control, recreation and irrigation.

The Dam Safety Engineering Program regulates the construction, operation and maintenance of Ohio’s dams to protect life and property from damages due to failure of a dam. The program helps to ensure the safety of thousands of Ohio’s citizens and billions of dollars of property and infrastructure.


There are four primary classifications of dams:

Class I — generally larger dams whose failure would result in probable loss of life.

Class II — generally dams whose failure would result in flooding of high-value property and damage to public infrastructure such as water supply and roads with no probable loss of life.

Class III — generally smaller dams whose failure impacts are limited to rural buildings and local roads with no probable loss of life.

Class IV — dams less than 25 feet high that impound less than 50 acre-feet and whose failure would be restricted to the dam itself and rural lands. Class IV dams are not actively regulated by the divisions and owners do not pay an annual fee.


Ohio Administrative Code requires owners of classification I, II and III dams to have an emergency action plan. An EAP is a document that identifies the potential emergency conditions that could occur at a dam and provides guidance for emergency response.

These plans are important for the protection of yourself as well as surrounding residents. Imagine that you have a pond in your back yard that is classified as a class II dam. An inspection indicates that there are concerns with the dam. It could give at any time. What would you do?

Of course, steps will be taken to try and lower the water levels to ensure that the dam will not let go. However, this will take time. This is where your EAP would be critical. It should indicate to you all residents that may be in potential harms way and contact information for them.

Contact information

In addition, it should include all necessary agency contacts such as EMA, local law enforcement, ODNR, etc. … In a moment of crisis wouldn’t it be easier to pull out this plan and have all the information at your fingertips rather than scrambling with an unclear mind trying to determine what to do?

More and more emphasis is being placed on emergency action plans as the public becomes more aware of the importance of dam safety. Since failure of a dam can take only hours or minutes, it is imperative to have a detailed plan of action ready for use.

If you have questions about dam classifications or would like more information or assistance with an EAP contact the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Resources-Dam Safety Program at 614-265-6737 or contact your local soil and water conservation district.

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  1. I am glad that you are writing about dam owner responsibilities, as they are not very widely known among landowners. For your farmer readers, I wanted to mention that NRCS has several programs which can provide funding assistance for the removal of dams in agricultural areas that are no longer serving a useful purpose for their owners. The WHIP (Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program) and EQIP programs can utilize practice code 396 “Aquatic Organism Passage” to remove unwanted dams. Additionally, the Emergency Watershed Protection program can provide assistance in removing dams that have been damaged by flooding and/or whose removal may alleviate flood damages. The application of these programs vary by state depending on the NRCS state-level conservation strategy, but your local NRCS agents should be able to provide information.


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