Dam Safety

Regulation and management

The State Engineer and director of our affiliate agency, the Division of Water Rights, has the authority to regulate the safety of dams to protect life and property and oversees the state’s Dam Safety Section. The Dam Safety Section provides technical expertise on the design, construction, operation and inspection of more than 800 existing dams plus any new dams being developed. No person may construct, enlarge, repair, alter, remove or abandon any dam or reservoir without obtaining written approval from the State Engineer.

Approximately 50 federal Utah dams are inspected and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation under their dam safety guidelines.

Dam classification

Dams are classified according to hazard, size and use. There are three hazard ratings: high, moderate and low. The rating doesn’t describe the condition of the dam, but rather the potential consequences of a dam failure. As the state’s population continues to grow and development encroaches on dams – also called “hazard creep” –  the urgency to meet dam safety standards increases.

Inspections and maintenance

The Dam Safety Section regularly inspects Utah’s dams and coordinates with dam owners. The Division of Water Rights’ dam safety staff work to identify safety concerns and maintenance issues. However, it is the owner’s responsibility to make the necessary adjustments and repairs. Dam owners are responsible for all duties, obligations and liabilities that come with dam ownership.

Image of construction work at Millsite Dam to bring it to current safety standards
Millsite Dam was recently upgraded to meet current standards.


The Board of Water Resources approves funding for dam safety projects, and the Division of Water Resources staff provides oversight of the project funding.

During the last several decades, a better understanding of how dams function has been gained, and new minimum design standards have been established. Since 1992, the Legislature has provided grant funding, currently $3.8 million per year, to the Board of Water Resources to appropriate for high-hazard dam rehabilitations. These projects become necessary due to aging infrastructure, hazard creep, adjustments to design standards and other reasons. Routine maintenance and other operational costs may not be eligible for grant funding.

As of 2024, on average it costs the state $4.5 million to upgrade one dam. Cost varies depending on the size of the dam and the extent of the deficiencies. At the current level of baseline funding, the state can fund only one or two dam safety projects each year. The Legislature has provided additional funding above the baseline in recent years to expedite rehabilitation.

In order for the remaining high-hazard dams to be brought up to minimum safety standards, an estimated $464 million is needed. At the current funding rate, this is estimated to take about 120 years. If funding were increased by $6.2 million to a total of $10 million per year, the dams could be upgraded in approximately 46 years. 

The Board of Water Resources will continue to work with the Dam Safety Section to determine which dams are the highest priority and to address funding these projects as appropriations allow. Additional funding accelerates urgent dam safety upgrades.

Why do we have dams?

Dams are an essential part of the state’s water infrastructure and are built to store water and help optimize the use of this precious resource. In the spring, snow melts faster than we can use it, which can cause flooding and inefficient use. In the summer, when the water is needed most, streamflow declines significantly. Dams and reservoirs allow the spring runoff to be captured and stored for use throughout the year and are part of an overall water management strategy.

Water storage – Because the amount of water Mother Nature delivers varies from year to year, it’s important to have reservoirs to store water in years where there’s an abundance. The state has different-sized reservoirs in its water supply system. Some are designed to have a one-year storage capacity, and some have multiple years of storage capacity. 

Flood control – Dams help control flooding by allowing for the storage of excess water in reservoirs and allowing for the controlled release of water. Flood detention basins are also built in or above neighborhoods to provide protection. They are usually empty except during heavy runoff events. Dams also help prevent erosion damage to river banks. 

Power generation – The U.S. is one of the largest producers of hydropower in the world, second only to Canada. Some of the Utah dams that produce hydropower – a clean, renewable source of energy – include Flaming Gorge, Lake Powell, Deer Creek, Causey, Jordanelle, Pineview, Cutler, Logan 3rd, and Blacksmith Fork Upper.

Irrigation – Dams store water that is used to irrigate crops, lawns and gardens.  This provides water for the state’s agricultural economy and important urban forest and agriculture benefits. 

Recreation – Visitors enjoy a variety of recreational opportunities at reservoirs that dams create, including fishing, boating, swimming, paddle boarding, cliff jumping, kiteboarding, jet skiing, ice fishing, floating playgrounds and more.

  • Over 200 high-hazard dams are regulated by the state; approximately 100 of these do not meet current dam safety standards. 
  • Forty-five dams have been rehabilitated with state funds to meet current safety standards. An additional 11 have been partly upgraded but need more work to complete the effort. 
  • High-hazard dams are inspected annually, moderate-hazard dams every two years and low-hazard dams every five years.

Helpful resources

Water Rights website – The Division of Water Rights administers the appropriation and distribution of the state’s water rights. It houses the office of the State Engineer, who oversees the Dam Safety Section.

Water Rights Dam Inventory  – A list of all registered dams in the state.

Map of state-inspected dams – This map shows all the state-inspected dams.

Association of State Dam Safety Officials – The ASDSO website has a wealth of helpful dam safety information.