This year marks the 133rd anniversary of the dam breach that took the lives of more than 2,200 people and galvanized the nation to ensure such a tragic event could not happen again. On May 31, 1889, torrential rain and subsequent flooding caused the South Fork Dam to fail near Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Changes in ownership, lack of oversight, and unsound improvements increased the probability of a dam failure rather than prevent one. When the dam gave way, over 20 million tons of water caused a catastrophic torrent downstream. A 40-foot wave traveling 40 miles per hour crashed into Johnstown demolishing the town.
National Dam Safety Awareness Day was created in memoriam to encourage and promote individual and community responsibility for dam safety and provide information on what can be done to prevent future dam failures. Additionally, this day promotes the benefits dams offer to communities. May 31 serves as a reminder to perform inspections, take necessary precautions for climate change patterns, update emergency action and evacuation plans, and share dam safety information with the communities. Dam safety is a shared responsibility. Know your risk, know your role, know the benefits of dams and take action.
Be Dam Aware – learn more
- Dams provide many benefits including bringing water, power, flood control, recreation, and economic opportunities to communities. However, there are risks associated with dams, especially if a failure occurs.
- Be aware of dams in your area. Contact your local dam safety official for more information.
- Be prepared - Ask your city council for a copy of their Emergency Evacuation Plan and share with your neighbors.
Since their enactment in 1948, USDA NRCS’ watershed programs have designed and built over 11,870 dams, constructed water storage structures, flood management systems, bank stabilization, relocated property, redirected stream flows, re-established wildlife habitat and more to save lives and protect watersheds. These programs play an important role in advancing the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, the USDA NRCS has invested $586.5 Million to address watershed resource concerns including $82 million to address safety and performance issues of high hazard dams.
Learn more about OneUSDA Dam Safety Programs