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California Dam Safety Review (7-CA-f)

In California, dams and reservoirs within the State’s jurisdiction must comply with the California Water Code and the California Code of Regulations’ requirements for dam safety. The California Water Code entrusts the regulatory power to oversee dam safety to the Department of Water Resources (Department). The Department has delegated this authority to the Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD). The DSOD’s mission is to protect against the loss of life and property due to dam failure. DSOD engineers and engineering geologists review and approve plans and specifications for the design of dams and oversee dam construction to insure compliance with the approved plans and specifications. The DSOD review process may include an evaluation of site geology, seismic setting, site investigations, construction material evaluation, dam stability, hydrology, hydraulics, and structural review of appurtenant structures. Division of Safety of Dams; Division of Safety of Dams:About Dam Safety.


Dam Safety Review Process

7-CA-f.1 to 7-CA-f.2 - Will the Hydropower Project Include a Dam or Reservoir Within the State’s Jurisdiction?

If the hydropower project will involve the construction, enlargement, repair, or alteration of a dam or reservoir within the State’s jurisdiction, the developer must file an application with the Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams. California Water Code Sections 6000 to 6004.5 and 6024.5 identify dams and reservoirs falling within the State’s jurisdiction (see below). Dams and reservoirs owned by the United States are not subject to State jurisdiction except as otherwise provided by federal law.

The Water Code defines a “dam” as any artificial barrier (together with appurtenant works) that may impound or divert water, and which is either 25 feet or more in height or which has an impounding capacity of 50 acre-feet or more. California Water Code §6002. However, any barrier not in excess of 6 feet high is not considered a dam, regardless of storage capacity. California Water Code §6004. Any barrier with a storage capacity not in excess of 15 acre-feet is also not considered a dam, regardless of height. California Water Code §6004.

The Water Code identifies a “reservoir” as any reservoir which contains or will contain the water impounded by a dam. Dams and reservoirs owned by the United States are not subject to State jurisdiction except as otherwise provided by federal law. California Water Code §6004.5; Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs at 38.

See California Water Code Sections 6025 to 6031 for more details. Upon request, the DSOD will review the physical description of an existing or proposed dam and/or reservoir and determine whether the dam and/or reservoir will be within the State’s jurisdiction. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.3 to 7-CA-f.4 – Has the Developer Secured an Adequate Water Right?

The developer must provide evidence of a water right before the DSOD may approve the developer’s application. If the developer does not already hold an adequate water right, the developer should file an application for water rights with the State Water Resources Control Board. 23 CCR 303.

In California, depending on the type of hydropower facility (dam, run-of-river, or pumped storage) and other water needs (such as dust suppression for roads and construction activities), the developer may rely upon surface water, groundwater, and/or municipal wastewater to meet the project’s overall water requirements. For more information, see: Water Access and Water Rights:
19-CA-a

7-CA-f.5 – Conduct Pre-Application Meetings

Pre-application meetings are not required under California statutes or regulations. However, the developer can expedite the dam review process by initiating early consultation with the DSOD. Early consultation may include CEQA scoping meetings, early site visits to view exploration, preliminary design discussions, project schedule reviews, and submittal of preliminary 60 percent plans, specifications, and geologic data. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.6 – Application for Dam Construction, Enlargement, Repair, or Alteration

The developer must submit an application (in duplicate) to the DSOD for the construction or enlargement of a dam (using application form DWR 3) or an application for the repair or alteration of a dam (using application form DWR 4). Application forms are available at the DSOD website.

The application must be made on printed forms provided by the DSOD and must be submitted to the following address: Department of Water Resources Division of Safety of Dams P.O. Box 942836 Sacramento, California 94236-0001

23 CCR 310; Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

If the dam is (or will be) located in a stream, the developer must also submit one copy of the application to the Fish and Game Commission at the following address:

Fish and Game Commission In care-of State Department of Fish and Game 12th Floor, Resources Building 1416 Ninth Street Sacramento, California 95814

California Water Code § 6500.

Application forms must be submitted in duplicate (each signed) and must include the following:

  • The name and address of the owner;
  • The location, type, size, and height of the proposed dam or reservoir and appurtenant works;
  • The storage capacity of the reservoir;
  • As accurately as may be readily obtained, the area of the drainage basin, rainfall and streamflow records and floodflow records and estimates.
  • Maps, plans, and specifications of such character and size and setting forth such pertinent details and dimensions as the DSOD requires. The DSOD might not require plans and specifications for minor repair work. California Water Code § 6206; Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.
    • Plans must be prepared by, or under the direction of, and authenticated by a civil engineer who is registered pursuant to California law (not required for minor repair work) 23 CCR 304. Plans should be filed in duplicate, in the form of unsigned and nearly complete paper prints.
    • Specification must be nearly complete and provided in duplicate (not required for minor repair work);
  • Filing Fee California Water Code § 6300; 23 CCR 314.
    • The current fee structure is available at the DSOD website.
  • Evidence of water rights (not required for dam repair or alteration) 23 CCR 310(f)(1);
  • Information enabling the DSOD to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act and associated regulations, including:
    • A copy of the environmental impact report (EIR) or a negative declaration prepared by a lead agency, or evidence that a lead agency is preparing or will prepare environmental documentation; or
    • Data and information necessary for the DSOD to act as the lead agency for the preparation of the environmental documentation, where the DSOD is required to do so by law.

23 CCR 310(f)(2).

    • Note: Dam repair and maintenance qualify for an exemption under CEQA.

Title 23 CCR Waters; California Water Code; Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

The DSOD may require certain additional information that the DSOD considers necessary in order to determine the safety of the dam and reservoir. Such additional information may include, among other things, soils data, foundation conditions, geologic reports, hydrologic data, construction materials, and/or structural and hydraulic design notes. California Water Code 6203; 23 CCR 310(e); Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

The developer must provide all required information in sufficient clarity and detail to be readily interpreted and studied, and to permit an adequate evaluation of the safety of the proposed project. 23 CCR 310(d).

7-CA-f.7 to 7-CA-f.10 – Evaluate Application for Completeness

The DSOD evaluates the developer’s application for completeness. Within 30 days of receiving the application, the DSOD will inform the developer of the status of the application. If the application is incomplete, the DSOD will inform the developer of any additional information needed in order to make the application complete. Otherwise, the DSOD will inform the developer that the application is complete. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.11 to 7-CA-f.14 – Review Project

The DSOD reviews the project data, conducts a site inspection, and identifies any supplemental information the developer must provide in order for the DSOD to approve the project. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.15 to 7-CA-f.16 - Does the DSOD Require Any Changes to the Dam Plans or Specifications?

During the project review, the DSOD comments on the project and may request that the developer change the project plans and/or specifications. The DSOD works with the developer to resolve any plan or specification issues. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.17 – Signed Drawings and Final Specifications

Once the review is complete and any issues are resolved, the developer submits the signed drawings (in triplicate) and final specifications (in duplicate) for approval by the DSOD. Note: If the developer seeks only to repair or alter an existing dam, only two sets of signed plans are required for application approval.

Note: All civil engineering work (including plans, specifications, reports, and documents prepared under the Civil Engineering Practice Act) must bear the seal or stamp of the responsible civil engineer and must be signed across the face with the expiration of the certificate shown on or adjacent to the seal. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.18 – Notify DSOD of Construction

The developer must notify the DSOD when construction of the dam is to begin and must keep the DSOD field engineers informed as to the status of construction work at all times. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.19 – Inspect Construction as Needed

The DSOD conducts inspections of the project as deemed necessary. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.20 – Notice of Completion

When construction of the dam project is complete, the developer must notify the DSOD by letter. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.21 to 7-CA-f.23 – Conduct Final Inspection

The DSOD conducts a final inspection of the dam project as soon as practicable after receiving the developer’s notice of completion. The developer must resolve any safety issues identified by before the DSOD can issue a final approval. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.24 – Post-Inspection Documents

As soon as possible after the DSOD’s final inspection, the developer should file the following items with the DSOD:

  • An affidavit of the costs of construction, with a breakdown of construction costs (including engineering costs) attached;
  • An additional filing fee if the final cost of construction exceeds the estimated cost by more than 15 percent;
  • As-constructed plans (if required) in the form of paper prints.

Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.

7-CA-f.25 – Certificate of Approval

Upon finding that the dam and reservoir are safe to impound water within the limitations prescribed in the certificate, the DSOD issues a certification of approval. The developer may not impound water until after the DSOD issues the certification of approval. Current Practices of the Department of Water Resources in Supervision of Dams and Reservoirs.




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