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An Audit Report on the Dam Safety Program at the Commission on Environmental Quality

May 2008

Report Number 08-032

Overall Conclusion

The Commission on Environmental Quality's (Commission) dam safety program, as currently designed and operating, is not able to accomplish its statutory mandate to ensure the safe construction, maintenance, repair, and removal of dams in the state of Texas. Although management has made improvements to the dam safety program over the past four years, the Commission still is not able to perform timely inspections of all high- and significant-hazard dams, ensure that deficiencies identified in inspection reports are corrected, or obtain key information needed to assess the risk posed by many of the state's dams. The size of the state's dam inventory (7,603 state-regulated dams) in relation to dam safety program resources is a major contributing factor. Additionally, the administrative rules governing dam safety do not address key dam safety practices established by federal and industry guidelines.

Although the Commission regulates dams, owners are ultimately responsible for the safety of their dams. However, federal and state funding available to assist dam owners in making repairs is limited. In 2003, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimated that it would cost more than $711 million to rehabilitate the non-federally owned, high-hazard dams in Texas.

The Commission should establish a model dam safety program for the State. To accomplish this, the Commission should develop goals for the program and determine what additional resources will be needed to achieve these goals. The goals should include:

- Establishing an inspection frequency that is consistent with best practices.

- Obtaining additional information on the hydraulic adequacy of high- and significant-hazard dams.

- Following up on deficiencies identified in inspection reports to ensure that dam owners have corrected them.

- Strengthening the enforcement function to ensure that dam owners comply with Texas Administrative Code requirements and mitigate the risk associated with deficient dams.

- Estimating the cost to rehabilitate the state's structurally deficient and hydraulically inadequate dams.

In the near-term, the Commission should take a number of interim steps. These include:

- Completing the revision of administrative rules governing dam safety to increase the effectiveness of the dam safety program.

- Developing formal risk-assessment criteria to ensure that the highest-risk dams are identified and prioritized for inspections.

- Developing a strategy to identify low-hazard dams that should be upgraded to high- or significant-hazard due to new downstream development.

- Developing criteria for screening and prioritizing requests for inspections of low-hazard dams.

- Ensuring that all data entered into the dam inventory database is complete and accurate.

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