Skip to Content

What's New

Dam Safety Program

Purpose - To provide for proper and safe design, construction, operation and maintenance of dams to protect public safety.

Authority - The Virginia Dam Safety Act, Article 2, Chapter 6, Title 10.1 (10.1-604 et seq) of the Code of Virginia and Dam Safety Impounding Structure Regulations (Dam Safety Regulations), established and published by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board (VSWCB). Virginia's Dam Safety Regulations were last updated on Nov. 8, 2012.

Permit Requirements - No person or entity shall construct, begin to construct, alter or begin to alter an impounding structure until the VSWCB issues a construction permit or an alteration permit.

Which Dams are Subject to the Law? All dams in Virginia are subject to the Dam Safety Act and Dam Safety Regulations unless specifically excluded. A dam is excluded if it:

  • is less than six feet high;
  • has a maximum capacity less than 50 acre-feet and is less than 25 feet in height;
  • has a maximum capacity of less than 15 acre-feet and is more than 25 feet in height;
  • is used primarily for agricultural purposes and has a maximum capacity of less than 100 acre-feet or is less than 25 feet in height (if the use or ownership changes, the dam may be subject to regulation);
  • is owned or licensed by the federal government;
  • is operated for mining purposes under 45.1-222 or 45.1-225.1 of the Code of Virginia;
  • is an obstruction in a canal used to raise or lower water levels;
  • The height of a dam is defined as the vertical distance from the streambed at the downstream toe to the top of the dam;
  • The maximum capacity of a dam is defined as the maximum volume capable of being impounded at the top of the dam.

Hazard Potential Classification of Dams - Dams are classified with a hazard potential depending upon the downstream losses anticipated in event of failure. Hazard potential unrelated to the structural integrity of a dam. Rather, it is directly related to potential adverse downstream impacts should the given dam fail.

  • High - dams that upon failure would cause probable loss of life or serious economic damage
  • Significant - dams that upon failure might cause loss of life or appreciable economic damage
  • Low - dams that upon failure would lead to no expected loss of life or significant economic damage. Special criteria: This classification includes dams that upon failure would cause damage only to property of the dam owner.

Click here to learn more about dam classification.

Click here for guidance on who may be considered an "owner" of a dam.

Certificates - The owner of each regulated high, significant, or low hazard dam is required to apply to the board for an Operation and Maintenance Certificate. The application must include an assessment of the dam by a licensed professional, an Emergency Action Plan and the appropriate fee(s), submitted under separate cover. Click here for a list of fees and fees form. An executed copy of the Emergency Action Plan or Emergency Preparedness Plan must be filed with the appropriate local emergency official and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

The VSWCB issues Regular Operation and Maintenance Certificates to the dam owner for a period of six years. If a dam has a deficiency but does not pose imminent danger, the board may issue a Conditional Operation and Maintenance Certificate, during which time the dam owner is to correct the deficiency.

After a dam is certified by the board, annual inspections are required either by a professional engineer or the dam owner, and the Annual Inspection Report is submitted to the regional dam safety engineer. Inspections by a professional engineer are required at the following frequency:

  • High - two years;
  • Significant - three years;
  • Low - six years. Special criteria: Inspections by a professional engineer are not required for low hazard dams determined to cause damage to only the dam owner’s property, but the dam owner must still annually inspect the dam and complete and submit an Annual Inspection Report to the regional dam safety engineer.


Click here for MS Word versions of the above forms.

The Dam Safety, Flood Prevention and Protection Assistance Fund was recently authorized to provide funding for qualified dam rehabilitation, dam break inundation zone mapping and floodplain projects proposed by local governments and private entities. Click here to download the manual.



Click here to download a map depicting Virginia's dam safety regions and pertinent contact information. You may also contact DCR's Dam Safety Program staff at (804) 371-6095 or email

Floodplain Management Program

Did you know?

In 1999, Hurricane Floyd's deluge caused the Blackwater River to flood Franklin's Main Street.
In 1999, Hurricane Floyd's deluge caused the Blackwater River to flood Franklin's Main Street.
  • Floods are the most common natural disaster.
  • About 200 Americans lose their lives in floods each year.
  • 90 percent of all presidential declarations of emergency or major disaster involve flooding. 20,000 American communities having more than 7.4 million buildings have flood hazard areas.
  • On average, flood damages throughout the nation annually exceed $3 billion; in Virginia, flood caused damages averaged more than $100 million between 1983 and 1997.
  • Direct and indirect costs of flood recovery are borne by all American taxpayers, not just flood victims.

Direct costs of floods

  • Rescue and relief efforts
  • Emergency preparedness
  • Cleanup operations
  • Rebuilding public utilities and facilities
  • Rebuilding un-insured homes and businesses

Indirect costs of floods

  • Business interruptions and their loss of wages, sales and production
  • Construction, operation and maintenance of flood control works
  • Costs of loans for reconstructing damaged facilities
  • Tax base declines in flood blight areas
  • Subsidies for flood insurance

Virginia's Floodplain Management Program

I-64 eastbound lanes flooded near Newport News following Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
I-64 eastbound lanes flooded near Newport News following Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

To address such problems, Virginia's General Assembly enacted the Virginia Flood Damage Reduction Act of 1989. This legislation was the result of several disastrous floods or coastal storms that hit the state between 1969 and 1985. To improve Virginia's flood protection programs and place related programs in one agency, responsibility for coordination of all state floodplain programs was transferred in 1987 from the Water Control Board to DCR. DCR was named manager of the state's floodplain program and designated coordinating agency of the National Flood Insurance Program under the act, §10.1-602, and a governor's memorandum released in July 1997.

Debris from Franklin's businesses following Hurricane Floyd's visit.Debris from Franklin's businesses following Hurricane Floyd's visit.

Floodplain Management Program staff works with localities to establish and enforce floodplain management zoning. Localities use the program's state model ordinances, in which minimum standards for local regulations are set, to write their own. (Please contact DCR staff to obtain the model ordinances.) Local governments can set more restrictive standards to ensure higher levels of protection for residents in flood hazard areas. Also, the state has used the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code to set construction standards for structures built in Federal Emergency Management Agency designated flood hazard areas.

Floodplain zoning regulates how development is allowed within floodplains. The program's main goal is to protect people and their property from unwise floodplain development. It also protects society from costs associated with developed floodplains.

More About the DCR Floodplain Management Program

Floodplain management links

Floodplain Management Program contacts