The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held a half-day workshop on Friday, Dec. 5, that focused on the FERC Dam Safety Program.
FERC Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher opened the workshop by praising FERC’s Dam Safety Program as an internationally respected program that serves as a model for other countries.
FERC Commissioner Suedeen Kelly added that the workshop shined a spotlight on a “significant, unsung, successful program.”
Dan Mahoney, Director of FERC’s Division of Dam Safety and Inspections, presented an overview of the FERC Dam Safety Program to the Commissioners. During his presentation, Mahoney stated that while the program has been successful, it must continually change and improve to adjust to changes in technology, load conditions, and other factors. He said the development of Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) and owners’ dam safety programs were two changes that have been improvements over the years.
At the end of his presentation, the Commissioners asked Mahoney about emerging challenges to the program. Mahoney noted two areas of concern. First, aging infrastructure requires a high level of monitoring and maintenance. Secondly, the number of young, well-trained engineers is cause for concern, because many college graduates are unfamiliar or lack experience with the design phase of dams.
Following Dan’s presentation, a panel of industry representatives described important features of a good dam safety program. Joseph L. Ehasz, Vice President of URS Washington Division, began by stating that owners, designers and regulators each play an important role in dam safety. According to Ehasz, owners have the first responsibility for safety and must clearly designate responsibility during an emergency and work to develop EAPs.
Hal Dalson, Manager of Regulatory Security Programs at CMS Energy, discussed dam site security by comparing pre-2001 and post-2001 security measures. Dalson said that dam operators were more likely not to report security problems to local authorities before 2001 and that security exercises were not conducted. Since 2001, FERC has formalized security programs for dams. Dalson noted that security is now becoming a cornerstone of dam operations, and safety inspections, which include evaluations of site security, have made dam personnel more aware of safety and security issues.However, he warned that with the economic downturn, owners are reassessing where to concentrate their resources and security could lose out. Finally, he added that cyber-security has emerged as a real threat, and FERC and other dam safety officials need determine which measures are necessary to combat these threats.
PFMAs were the focus of Bill Christman, Hydro Engineering Manager for Chelan CountyPUD. Christman said that with mandatory monitoring of PFMAs, there is no substitute for surveillance programs that provide information showing the efficacy of PFMAs. On the other hand, he said that getting funds to implement PFMAs is challenging and that young engineers need PFMA training.
Don Baldwin, Senior Engineer for Exelon Power, addressed EAPs. According to Baldwin the real value of EAPs is the relationships they foster between dam officials and local emergency service personnel. He said that FERC’s program to train licensees to execute their EAPs provided tangible benefits when an “Ice Jam” behind the Conowingo Dam in 1996 forced people in the town below the dam to evacuate. The employees at Conowingo had practiced their EAP procedures for “Ice Jams” only weeks before a real incident occurred. The table-top, functional exercises they performed with FERC led to effective coordination that ultimately saved the lives of nearby citizens.Baldwin said that the U.S. Geological Survey lacked the funds to update the river gauge system that can help predict emergency conditions.
The second panel focused on the challenges facing state dam safety offices. Rob Martinez, spoke on behalf of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). Martinez said that in many states funding dam safety programs is challenging, because of reduced revenue in states’ general funds. Secondly, he said the lack of funds makes dam safety difficult by cutting money needed for updating inundation maps. Finally, he said that public awareness of owner responsibility for dam safety and outreach to state legislators for increased funding remain challenges.
David Gutierrez, Chief of California’s Division of Safety of Dams, and Alon Dominitz, New York’s Chief of Dam Safety, each gave state perspectives on dam safety. Both presentations hit on broad themes that Martinez raised, namely that funding continues to be a problems for state dam safety programs. Gutierrez said that dam security is difficult and that one area of weakness is having to follow FERC’s lead on EAPs. Dominitz added that FERC should try to bring inspectors to states, because budget cuts are forcing inspectors to curtail their travel and their inspections.
Fred Sharrocks of FEMA examined the role his agency is playing in dam safety. According to Sharrocks, the National Dam Safety Review Board advises FEMA on dam safety. As with individual states, FEMA’s dam safety program faces budget problems and is funded below its authorized level. However, the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, FEMA’s dam safety program has been receiving more attention, although Sharrocks said citizens need information on responding to dam failures. He added that the federal government should enhance the training of dam safety officials and train them to make EAPs.
During his question period, Commissioner Spitzer raised concerns that zoning authorities in downstream communities must be aware of the location of inundation areas and restrict development in those areas.
The state officials concluded by saying that training, video conferencing, and increased coordination with ASDSO were measures that FERC could undertake to address state dam safety challenges.