Dams & Reservoirs

Did you know there are more than 2,300 regulated dams in South Carolina? DHEC oversees compliance for state-regulated dams through the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program. The program is administered by DHEC's Bureau of Water and was established in 1977 with the passage of the S.C. Dams and Reservoirs Safety Act .

The Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program State law and regulation require submission of plans and specifications and a written permit before a dam regulated under this program may be built, altered, or removed. DHEC reviews those plans and permits and also provides safety inspections, information and technical assistance to dam owners and operators across the state to help them stay in compliance with state laws and regulations.

Dams regulated under this law are classified based on both their hazard potential (high hazard, significant hazard, or low hazard) and their size (large, intermediate, small or very small).

Understanding Dam Classifications

Unless exempted by law, dams regulated by DHEC are classified based on size and hazards, and must meet one of the following criteria:

  • 25 feet in height
  • impounds (holds back) 50 acre feet or more of water
  • classified as a high-hazard dam, regardless of size

Hazard classification applies to potential loss of human life or property damage in the event of failure or improper operation of the dam or connected works.

  • High-hazard (C1) - Failure will likely cause loss of life or serious damage to infrastructure.
  • Significant-hazard (C2) - Failure will not likely cause loss of life but may damage infrastructure.
  • Low-hazard (C3) - Failure may cause limited property damage.

Since 1977, numerous permits have been issued to construct, alter, repair, or remove dams in South Carolina. The program also conducts construction inspections and final inspections to ensure all work is performed according to the approved plans and specifications. Before a regulated dam or reservoir can be placed into operation, a written authorization to begin operations must be granted by the division.

The Environmental Quality Control Regional Offices are responsible for routine inspections and classification checks on dams. Routine inspections are performed on high hazard and significant hazard dams, and classification checks are done for low hazard dams by checking the area below the dams. Enforcement actions are used by the Bureau when necessary to ensure permits are obtained when required and to ensure compliance with permits.

Dam Owners and Residents

Dam owners are responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of their dams. While DHEC does not provide engineering or maintenance services, the agency does provide technical assistance and information to help dam owners maintain compliance with safety regulations.

If you are a dam owner and are considering the alteration, repair or removal of a dam, please visit the dam permitting page .

If you are a resident who lives near or below a dam, please visit www.livingneardams.org .

Be sure to check out South Carolina Dam Safety News .

Dam Safety Program Contacts

For questions or more information, contact:
John M. McCain, P.E., Manager
Phone: (803) 898-8178
Email: john.mccain@dhec.sc.gov

Or you can also contact your local EA Regional Office .

Bureau and Regional Office staff are available to give talks and presentations on the different aspects of the Dams and Reservoirs Safety Program. Please send us an email if you are interested in arranging a presentation for a group or class.


During Emergency Situations call the
Dam Safety Program
Staff are available 24/7 at:


CodeRED Dams & Reservoirs