July 25, 2023

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Dam Safety Program

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for overseeing dam safety, public safety, and security over approximately 2,700 non-Federal hydropower dams.  FERC’s dam safety efforts work to reduce risks associated with the failure or mis-operation of a project during both normal-flow and flood conditions, including the potential for loss of life, or damage to property or environment upstream and downstream of a dam.  Given the significance associated with these risks, we conducted this audit to determine whether the FERC’s dam safety program is meeting its goals and is being managed, as required.

We found that FERC had generally managed its dam safety program, as required.  However, we found that FERC’s Division of Dam Safety and Inspections (D2SI) had not always inspected dams under its jurisdiction within its own prescribed timing requirements. In addition, we found that D2SI did not utilize dam safety authority on specific exempted dams where updated regulations may have allowed additional oversight responsibilities.  Finally, we found instances where FERC continued to oversee projects that may no longer meet the definition of operable or the intent of Federal requirements.

We attributed these issues to current oversight and management practices by D2SI.  Specifically, D2SI’s internal dam safety inspection requirements were ambiguous and unclear, which led to an inconsistent application of inspection timing metrics.  D2SI also experienced challenges with staffing and workload, as well as COVID-19 response measures, that may have negatively impacted its ability to complete required dam safety inspections timely.  Further, D2SI did not proactively initiate available actions that could have reduced risks to its portfolio of dams.

Without implementing additional oversight and management practices to ensure goals of the dam safety program are met, there may be an increased risk to life, property, and environment surrounding dams under FERC’s jurisdiction.

To address the issues identified in this report, we have made five recommendations that, if fully implemented, should help ensure that FERC oversees and manages its dam safety program, as required.