News & Insights

Alabama Passes Dam Safety Legislation

Until recently, Alabama was the only state that had yet to enact legislation ensuring that dams and reservoirs were safely constructed and maintained to protect downstream water users and upstream property owners. With the introduction of Alabama’s new Dam Safety legislation, the Alabama legislature has given professional civil engineers across the state a new role in the construction, reconstruction, and renovation of dams and reservoirs, while also opening the flood gates for potential civil liability against them.

On June 7, 2023, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed the bipartisan Alabama Senate Bill 284 into legislation codifying an inspection and maintenance program for certain dams and reservoirs across the state. The bill – aimed at fortifying dam safety – provides for the inspection of dams and reservoirs by a professional engineer licensed in the state of Alabama; requires certain dam owners to develop action plans in the event of an emergency; and requires dam owners notify local their local emergency management agency of any new dam construction or enlargement.

While seemingly insignificant on its face, the program strips many of the duties and potential liabilities from dam owners, instead electing to place them on the shoulders of engineers involved in such projects. Subsection 3(a) of the bill lays out the new responsibilities of an engineer assisting with the construction or renovation of a dam, stating “[a] participating owner shall ensure plans and specifications for initial construction, reconstruction, enlargement, alteration, repair, operation, breach, abandonment, or removal of dams and reservoirs, and the supervision of the construction of dams and reservoirs, shall be in the charge of an engineer and assisted by qualified geologists and other specialists as necessary.”

Once the owner opts into the program, a civil engineer is required to produce certification of a completed safety inspection to the corresponding local Emergency Management Agency every two years. Following each inspection, the engineer is required to assign a “low”, “significant” or “high” hazard potential classification based on possible adverse incremental consequences that would result from misoperation or a failure of the dam.

With the passing of this bill, the Alabama State Legislature hopes to utilize the expertise of civil engineers across the state to prevent a catastrophic failure resulting in significant loss of life or property destruction. While the language of the bill does not explicitly set forth damages or remedies in the event of a botched inspection by an engineer, the heightened duty and scope of work in the construction and maintenance of dams will have vast consequences on construction and engineering of Dams in the state for years to come.