There s a dam there using gis to re inventory alabama dams
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There’s a Dam There? Using GIS to Re-Inventory Alabama Dams. By Jeff Zanotti. Normal Neighborhood in Cullman. Dam Directly Uphill. Decatur. Unmarked Dam. Rainsville. Dam Breach Potential Risks. Dam Failure Risk: 1] Potential of failure 2] Potential damage Potential of failure

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There’s a Dam There? Using GIS to Re-Inventory Alabama Dams

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There s a dam there using gis to re inventory alabama dams

There’s a Dam There?Using GIS to Re-Inventory Alabama Dams

By Jeff Zanotti

Normal neighborhood in cullman

Normal Neighborhood in Cullman

Dam directly uphill

Dam Directly Uphill



Unmarked dam

Unmarked Dam



Dam breach potential risks

Dam Breach Potential Risks

Dam Failure Risk:

1] Potential of failure

2] Potential damage

Potential of failure

  • Age of dam

  • Construction deficiencies

  • Inadequate maintenance

  • Seismic and weather events

    Apart from seismic and weather events age is a leading indicator of dam failure.

Recent regional failures of large dams

Recent Regional Failures of Large Dams

  • Big Bay Dam

  • Earthern dam near Purvis, MS

  • March 12, 2004

  • Destruction:

    • 55 homes and mobile homes were destroyed

    • 104 structures were documented as destroyed or damaged

    • 0 fatalities

Recent regional failures of large dams1

Recent Regional Failures of Large Dams

  • Kelly Barnes Dam

  • Earthern embankment dam in Stephens County, GA

  • November 6, 1977

  • Destruction:

    • 27 homes and mobile homes were destroyed

    • 2 college buildings were destroyed

    • 39 fatalities

Dam safety programs

Dam Safety Programs

  • Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) started in 1984 to create a national organization to improve dam safety

  • Alabama is the only state that lacks a dam safety program

Safe dams

Safe Dams

ADECA’s Office of Water Resources began efforts in 2008 to develop an inventory of dams in Alabama

These dams would be classified by their hazard potential

Once established the program will help public safety and emergency response operations in the event of a disaster

How to start the re inventory process

How to Start the Re-Inventory Process

  • What is already inventoried?

    • National Inventory of Dams (NID) Database

  • What are the resources available?

    • GIS Layers

  • What attributes of the dams should be reflected in the inventory?

    • Goal is to classify by potential hazard

National inventory of dams

National Inventory of Dams

  • NID has many of the largest dams in Alabama but suffers from drawbacks of a national dataset

  • Many dam locations are off spatially by a significant distance or have points that do not correspond to any existing dam

  • Underestimates the true number of potentially hazardous dams in Alabama

Utilization of gis resources

Utilization of GIS Resources

  • Aerials → NAIP aerials available for free download and/or Base Map imagery layers in ArcGIS 10

  • Existing Shapefiles

    • USGS Quadrangles Layer → used as a way to divide up Alabama into study areas

    • National Hydrology Dataset → stream centerlines to verify stream flow

    • DFIRM Databases → includes flood zones to show extent of flooding effects in area

  • Seamless USGS 7.5 Minute Topographic Maps → available for free through

  • USGS 10 Meter Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) → assists in portraying drainage area as well as assisting in possible flooding extents for more difficult areas

Identifying risk attributes

Identifying Risk Attributes

  • What is the maximum storage in volume the dam can contain?

  • How tall is the dam?

  • Is there a risk downstream of the dam?

Locating visually

Locating Visually

  • Study Area Logistics

    • Study areas broken up by quads

    • 48 subsections to each quad

  • Aerial Identification

    • 3 acres with a hazard less than ½ mile downstream

    • Greater than 10 acres

  • Hazard Verification

    • Use NHD, DEM, and/or DFIRM flood zones to verify hazard potential

Example of potential infrastructure hazard

Example of Potential Infrastructure Hazard

Example of potential occupied building hazard

Example of Potential Occupied Building Hazard

Calculating height in gis

Calculating Height in GIS

  • H1 = Height of water at normal pool (assumed to be 3 feet lower than top of dam)

  • H2 = Difference in contours of those immediately downstream of dam and immediately upstream of visible water in pond

  • D1 = Distance from dam to upstream end of stream line for visible water

  • D2 = Distance between the 2 contours used to calculate H2

Arcmap height calculation example

ArcMap Height Calculation Example

D 1 and d 2 in arcmap

D1 and D2 in ArcMap

Calculating volume and area in gis

Calculating Volume and Area in GIS

  • H1 = previously calculated height 3 feet below top of dam

  • AW = area of visible surface water as measured in GIS from aerial

  • ATOD = area of surface water at full pool

  • VTOD = volume for the pond at full pool

Assumptions for calculating height area volume

Assumptions for Calculating Height/Area/Volume

Pools are at normal elevation

Stream gradient under the pond is the same as the stream gradient beyond the pool

3 feet in elevation between normal pool and top of dam

Depth vs. Area is a linear relationship

Volume = 0.4 x top of dam depth x top of dam area for full pool

Dem usage

DEM Usage

  • DEMs were required to add in supplemental information about the dams like calculating drainage area for watershed ponds

  • Helped designate dams as having a hazard or not downstream in areas without flood zones

Qa qc


  • Since GIS can use queries to field calculate most of the values only the D1, D2, and H2, as well as the drainage area and dam length, had to be recorded in the initial review.

  • Spatial Database Engine (SDE) was used to actually draw the D1 and D2 as their own layers in one dataset so it would be available to the GIS specialist doing the initial inventory as well as the reviewer for edits at the same time

  • Reviewer focus:

    • Making sure all dams were accounted for per quad

    • Hazards are verified

    • Dam location orientation is correct (using DEM)

    • D1, D2, and H2 all make sense to ensure accurate estimations

Trouble areas

Trouble Areas

USGS topos and aerials do not match up making D1 and D2 seem shifted

Trouble areas1

Trouble Areas

Accounting for dry storage

Trouble areas2

Trouble Areas

Unrealistic height estimations from USGS topos



  • NID points are outdated and did not represent true number of dams with potential hazards

  • Volume and Height estimations allow OWR to propose new inclusions into the NID

  • OWR can further classify these inventoried dams by risk and perform field verifications on the most essential dams as needed



Qualifications for inclusion into nid

Qualifications for Inclusion into NID

Has an impounding capacity at maximum water storage elevation of at least 50 acre-feet

Exceeds 25 feet or more in height

Will create a probable loss of human life in the event of failure or improper operation, regardless of height or storage capacity. (High Hazard)

Will create a probable loss of critical infrastructure in the event of failure or improper operation, regardless of height or storage capacity. (Significant or Moderate Hazard)



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