FERC Finalizes Updates to Dam Safety Regulations

FERC Finalizes Updates to Dam Safety Regulations

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On Thursday, December 16, 2021, the commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) voted to make the largest changes to its safety-related regulations since 1981. They also accepted four new chapters of the commission’s Engineering Guidelines.

The updates to the regulations and the new additions to the Engineering Guidelines reflect suggested alternative practices as a result of past dam safety incidents and the procedures of agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

The final rule will take effect 90 days after publication in the Federal Register.

The Deep Dive

In the summer of 2020, the Commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) along with four new draft chapters of the Engineering Guidelines for public comment.

Several organizations and associations, including the National Hydropower Association (NHA), provided extensive comments on the NOPR and the Engineering Guidelines chapters.

The final rule incorporates the following major changes:

  • Two tiers of project safety inspections by independent consultants, including a comprehensive assessment and periodic inspection. These tiers are part of a 10-year inspection cycle. The comprehensive assessment is a more detailed inspection, including an evaluation of spillway adequacy; a Potential Failure Modes Analysis; and a Risk Analysis.
  • A focus on the qualifications of the Independent Consultant Team versus an individual Independent Consultant.
  • Codification of existing guidance requiring certain hydro project licensees to develop owners’ dam safety programs and public safety plans.
  • Updates to existing regulations related to public safety incident reporting.

FERC says the new chapters in its Engineering Guidelines are designed to assist licensee compliance with the changes to the independent consultant inspection process.

The transcript of FERC staff’s presentation to the commissioners on December 16, 2021, can be found here.

Why It Matters

“It is imperative that the dams subject to FERC’s jurisdiction are maintained and operated in a manner that consistently prioritizes public safety,” Chairman Richard Glick said. “The improvements to the Commission’s dam safety program included in today’s order demonstrate our commitment to these issues.”

The National Hydropower Association – of which its membership represents 85% of the hydropower capacity in the U.S. – is committed to working with its members as they integrate the new practices into their project operations and consultancies.

NHA offers its members a regular forum of information and ideas exchange related to dam safety and project operations through its Hydraulic Power Committee (HPC).

NHA also provides the entire industry forums throughout the year for exchange and continuing education through its national and regional event series, including the annual Clean Currents conference + tradeshow.