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What is a dam?
A dam is defined by KRS 151 as any structure that is 25 feet in height, measured from the downstream toe to the crest of the dam, or has a maximum impounding capacity of 50 acre-feet or more at the top of the structure.
Existing Dams
KRS 151.293​, Section 6, authorizes the Energy and Environment Cabinet to inspect existing structures that meet the definition of a dam. The Dam Safety and Floodplain Management Section of the Water Resources Branch maintains a list of these structures in an inventory database. In determining the frequency of inspection of a particular dam, the cabinet takes into consideration the size and type, topography, geology, soil condition, hydrology, climate, use of the reservoir, the lands lying in the floodplain downstream and the hazard classification of the dam.
Dam Classifications
  • High Hazard (C) - Structures located such that failure may cause loss of life or serious damage to houses, industrial or commercial buildings, important public utilities, main highways or major railroads. Review the dam safety inundation mapper for high hazard dams here.
  • Moderate Hazard (B) - Structures located such that failure may cause significant damage to property and project operation, but loss of human life is not envisioned.
  • Low Hazard (A) - Structures located such that failure would cause loss of the structure itself but little or no additional damage to other property. 
  • High- and moderate-hazard dams are inspected every two years. Low-hazard dams are inspected every five years. If the structure meets all the necessary requirements as outlined in Engineering Memorandum No. 5, a Certificate of Inspection is issued to the owner. Otherwise, the owner is notified of any deficiencies.
​A Condition Assessment of a dam is performed during each inspection. Dams are assigned as one of the following four conditions: Satisfactory, Fair, Poor, and Unsatisfactory. More information on Condition Assessments can be found on the Dam Safety Downloads tab below.


New Dams
Depending on the type of dam, periodic inspections are performed during the construction of a new dam. A final inspection is performed when the construction is complete and as-built drawings are submitted. If the dam is constructed according to the plans and specifications, a letter is issued approving the impounding of water. The dam is then added to the inventory database.

​A dam is defined as any impounding structure that is either 25 feet in height, measured from the downstream toe to the crest, or has a maximum impounding capacity of 50 acre-feet of water. Structures that fail to meet these criteria but have the potential to cause significant property damage or pose a threat to life in the downstream area are regulated in the same manner as dams. All such structures except federal dams and those permitted by the Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement must be reviewed, and a stream construction permit [ZIP, 1.1 MB] must be issued by this office.

Construction inspections are performed periodically and during critical stages of work. Upon completion of construction, the owner submits a notice of completion and as-constructed drawings. When as-constructed drawings are received, a final inspection is conducted. If all work is satisfactory, the owner is granted permission to impound water and the completed dam is placed on the inventory of dams maintained by the section.

​Staff with Dam Safety and Floodplain Management periodically inspect all dams on the inventory as long as they continue to operate (approximately 300 dams each year). Each inspection starts with a complete file review in the office to note any identified deficiencies and to become familiar with hydrologic evaluations. The inspector then performs the field evaluation.

In the field, the inspector conducts a complete visual inspection. Surveys are completed for dams with missing measurements. Photographs help provide a permanent record of observations. Following the inspection, a letter and report are provided to the owner listing the observations and, if needed, deficiencies and remedial measures required. Enforcement action is sometimes required to ensure proper dam maintenance or modification.

The Environmental Response Team takes emergency action if a structure is in danger of failing and poses a threat to life or may cause serious property damage. The section is equipped with siphon pipes and pumps to help an owner drain water from a reservoir in an emergency. KRS 151.297 empowers the Energy and Environment Cabinet to take emergency action if an owner abandons a dam or refuses to take necessary action. To report an Environmental Emergency, call 1-800-928-2380 or 502-564-2380, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This same staff also processes between 100 and 200 floodplain cases each year. For more information see Undertand your Flood Risk.

​A Condition Assessment of a dam is performed during each inspection. Dams are assigned as one of the following four conditions: Satisfactory, Fair, Poor, and Unsatisfactory. More information on Condition Assessments can be found in the Dam Safety Downloads below.

A General Discussion of Dam Breach Analyses [834 KB]

Dam Construction Data Sheet [39 KB]

Dam Safety Information [72 KB] 

Design Criteria for Dams and Associated Structures (Engineering Memorandum Number 5) [86 KB]

Emergency Action Plan Guidelines [319 KB]

Geotechnical Guidelines for Earth Dams [2.0 MB]

Guidelines for Maintenance and Inspection of Dams [2.9 MB]

Kentucky Dam Condition Assessment Criteria [15 KB]

Rainfall Frequency Values for Kentucky (Engineering Memorandum Number 2) [1.9 MB]

Stream Construction Application.pdf [132 KB]

Photo of Wolf Creek Dam in Kentucky.

​For more information contact:

Glen Alexander, PE
Environmental Engineer Supervisor

Marilyn Thomas, PE
Environmental Engineer II

Beth Harrod​, PE
Environmental Engineer II

Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet
300 Sower Blvd
Frankfort, KY 40601

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