Regulatory Program: Dam Safety

The purpose of North Dakota’s Dam Safety Program is to minimize the risk to life and property associated with the potential failure of dams in the state. Functions of the Dam Safety Program include reviewing construction permit applications for dams, conducting dam inspections, maintaining an inventory of dams in North Dakota, and assisting with emergency preparedness activities.

Construction Permits

The Dam Safety Program reviews construction permit applications for dams, holding ponds, lagoons, and other water retention structures, as required under N.D.C.C. § 61-16.1-38.

Effective January 1, 2024, all new construction permits for dams (including holding ponds, lagoons, and other water retention structures) will need to adhere to the Dam Safety Standards. The Standards outline the administrative and technical requirements necessary to obtain a Department construction permit. They also provide useful information for the design of dams that do not require a construction permit from the Department.

Dam Safety Standards (REG_05.2024a)

Construction Permit Application (SFN 51695)

More information on construction permits can be found on the Construction Permits page.


A primary function of the Dam Safety Program is to conduct dam inspections and provide recommendations to dam owners regarding necessary maintenance and repairs. Dam Safety Program staff inspects non-federally owned high hazard and medium hazard dams on a rotational basis. Additional inspections are conducted on an as-needed basis or as-requested.

Dam maintenance and repairs are the responsibility of the dam owner. Funding to assist with dam safety repairs may be available through the DWR Cost-Share Program, or through other funding sources.

Emergency Action Plans

Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) are required for all high hazard and medium hazard dams under N.D.C.C. § 61-03-25. An EAP is a formal document that identifies potential emergency situations that could occur at a dam and specifies the course of action to be taken when an emergency situation arises. The purpose of an EAP is to minimize loss of life and property damage in the event of a dam emergency.

Dam owners are responsible for developing, testing, and updating an EAP for their dam. The Dam Safety Standards provide additional guidance for developing, testing, and updating EAPs. Funding to assist with developing an EAP may be available through the Cost-Share Program.

EAP Resources:

NRCS EAP Template

FEMA Federal Guidelines For Dam Safety - Emergency Action Planning For Dams

Hazard Classifications

Dams in North Dakota are classified as low hazard, medium hazard, or high hazard based on the potential for loss of life or property damage downstream if the dam were to fail. These classifications are defined in N.D.A.C. § 89-08-01-01 and are determined based on criteria outlined in the Dam Safety Standards.

Dam Inventory

The Dam Safety Program maintains an inventory of dams in North Dakota. North Dakota’s inventory of dams can be found on the Maps/GIS data page.

Low Head Dams

Low head dams are usually simple concrete or rock masonry structures that span the width of the river or stream, raising the water level behind them until it reaches a height sufficient to flow over the dam. These low head dams can create dangerous conditions that the public may not be aware of or may underestimate. Under the right conditions, water flowing over the dam can cause a “roller effect” on the downstream side of the dam. Strong recirculating currents can trap and drown boaters, swimmers, or other members of the public.

Low Head Dam Resources:

Association Of State Dam Safety Officials - Public Safety At Dams

Over, Under, Gone: The Killer In Our Rivers (Video Link)

Hazards Of Low Head Dams (Video Link)

Map Of North Dakota’s Low Head Dams

Low Head Dam Sign

Because low head dams are known to be dangerous, the DWR provides free cautionary safety signs to the owners of these dams that may be in your area. DWR will provide multiple signs per dam. However, installation efforts will be a local responsibility. For more information on these free dam safety signs, please call (701) 328-4956 or e-mail.

Probable Maximum Precipitation Study

In June 2021, the DWR completed an update of statewide Probable Maximum Precipitation (PMP) data through a two-year PMP study.

The 2021 study supersedes Hydrometeorological Reports (HMRs) HMR-48, HMR-51, and HMR-52, which were derived in the 1970s and 1980s by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, as best available PMP data in North Dakota. Results of the 2021 PMP study reflect the current standard of practice used for defining PMP and incorporate snowmelt along with both temporal and spatial distributions of PMP rainfall events.

The PMP study includes three GIS-based tools to allow evaluation of the PMP for individual basins: a PMP tool, a Snowmelt Tool, and a Spatial Distribution Tool. Application of the PMP study to dam design in North Dakota is outlined in the Dam Safety Standards. The final report of the PMP study and the accompanying GIS tools are below:

GIS Tool/Manual/Scripts

Final Report


Appendix F

Program Rules and Policies

North Dakota Administrative Code - Link to Article 89-08 "Dams, Dikes, and Other Devices"

North Dakota Century Code - Link to Title 61 "Waters"

Dam Safety Standards (REG_05.2024)

Legacy Dams Policy (REG_04.2024)

Construction Permit Water Management Policy (REG_2020.1)

Technical Manuals

Federal Guidelines For Dam Safety - Glossary Of Terms (FEMA)

Technical Manual: Conduits Through Embankment Dams (FEMA)

Filters For Embankment Dams - Best Practices For Design And Construction (FEMA)

Technical Manual: Outlet Works Energy Dissipators (FEMA)

Western Dam Engineering Technical Notes

Guidance for Dam Owners

Dam Safety Inspection Reports Definitions of Recommendation Categories

Dam Safety Standards Dam Owner Presentation Video (January 25, 2024)

Dam Safety Standards Dam Engineer Presentation Video (January 30, 2024)

Dam Owner Workshop Video, January 2023 (Maintenance And Operations)

Dam Owner Workshop Video, June 2022 (Basics Of Owning a Dam)

Dam Ownership Fact Sheets (ASDSO)

Dam Owner Academy Videos (ASDSO)

Dam Owner Emergency Intervention Toolbox

Technical Manual For Dam Owners - Impacts Of Plants On Earthen Dams (FEMA 534)

Technical Manual For Dam Owners - Impacts Of Animals On Earthen Dams (FEMA 473)

Association Of State Dam Safety Officials

Living With Dams: Know Your Risks

Living With Dams: Extreme Rainfall Events


For more information on Dam Safety, please contact the Regulatory Division at (701) 328-4956 or e-mail.