Water Resources Center

Background for Dam Safety Legislation in Missouri

Thousands of people have been injured, many killed and billions of dollars of property damaged by dam failures in the United States. Some of the more noteworthy were:

The failures of Teton Dam and the Kelly Barnes Dam focused national attention on the problem of unsafe dams. Dam failures, however continue to occur with destructive and sometimes fatal results.

The problem of unsafe dams in Missouri was underscored by dam failures at Lawrenceton in 1968, Washington County in 1975, Fredericktown in 1977, and a near failure in Franklin County in 1978.

In Missouri, the first state legislation aimed at regulating dams was passed in 1889, and was called the Dams, Mills, and Electric Power Law. The law was concerned only with damages caused by construction and lake formation. It did not address the engineering aspects of design or downstream safety of dams.

Ninety years later, House Bill 603 was introduced in the Missouri legislature. This legislation passed and became effective in September 1979, largely due to an early indication from the Corps of Engineers inspection program that Missouri led the country in total number of unsafe dams. House Bill 603 excluded certain dams from regulation - those less than 35 feet high and allowed exemptions for others - those used primarily for agricultural purposes and those regulated by other state or federal agencies. The Dam Safety Law is contained in Sections 236.400 through 236.500 of the revised statutes of Missouri.

The construction of dams in Missouri has always been an important part of the state's economy, primarily from the standpoint of the recreational areas that they create. Technical assistance and the review of plans and specifications for new dams by the Department of Natural Resources is extremely valuable to the owners and those people living downstream of the dam that could be flooded in the event the dam should fail. Every effort is made to provide realistic technical criteria to make sure that the dams are constructed correctly and yet efficiently.