Impacts from Operational Releases to Populations at Risk

Project ID: 1227
Principal Investigator: Anastasia Johnson
Research Topic: Public and Employee Safety
Funded Fiscal Years: 2014
Keywords: operational releases, flood stage, safe channel capacity, emergency management,

Research Question

Which Reclamation dams have the potential to pass operational flood releases (non-failure) that exceed the safe channel capacity or National Weather Service recognized flood stage below the dam?
What inundation mapping is available for each facility where there is the potential for operational releases that exceed the safe channel capacity or flood stage below the dam, and how does available mapping correlate with maximum operational releases?
What is the approximate population at risk during high operational releases without dam failure?
Is there potential life loss associated with operational releases?

Need and Benefit

The flood plains downstream of many Reclamation dams have become increasingly populated over time. As a result of community growth and encroachment into these flood plains, Reclamation dams now pose a greater threat of adverse consequences to populations downstream than original designers, planners and developers envisioned for our projects.

A significant challenge for the emergency preparedness program is to adequately prepare dam owners and operators not only for dam failure, but also to effectively manage large operational or uncontrolled releases in a safe manner in order to minimize the threat to life and economic consequences. The planned nature of operational releases allows a unique opportunity for coordination with downstream communities to enable organized responses to those releases should they occur.

Determining the specific structures for which there is the potential for release of life threatening flows, and the degree of inundation expected due to those flows, is an important step in developing a holistic, all-hazards emergency preparedness strategy for all Reclamation dams and their downstream communities.

Contributing Partners


Research Products

Data matrix allowing prioritization of dams based on Population at Risk for operational release scenarios.
Final report documenting the process of data gathering and gaps/shortcomings in the data which need to be addressed.

Last Updated: June 29, 2015