Thought Leadership

What do FERC’s new Part 12 Inspections Requirements mean for Dam Owners?

May 30, 2023

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By Gillian Williams and PJ Snyder – Senior Project Managers

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued updated regulations and guidelines for the inspection of FERC-regulated dams and hydropower projects.

As a dam owner, these updates will affect your next 5-year Independent Consultant (IC) safety inspection (commonly called Part 12 Inspections). The regs represent a new chapter in dam safety. But what do they mean for you?

As FERC applies the new regulations and guidelines, it will be a challenge for dam owners, licensees, consultants, and regulators to get up to speed.  One of the biggest changes is that the regulations create two types of Part 12 Inspections: Periodic Inspections (PI) and Comprehensive Assessments (CA), each of which will be scheduled on an alternating 10-year cycle. This means if a PI is scheduled in 2024, a CA will be required in 2029, followed by another PI in 2034.

Dam owners and licensees may be asking: Will the new requirements cost more than a previous Part 12 inspection? The short answer is: Yes.

Under the new guidelines, the PI is intended to be a “lighter” version of the previous Part 12 Inspections. It focuses on a field inspection and performance monitoring evaluation of the project. A CA, meanwhile, requires the same PI components but it adds a detailed review of the design basis and two workshops: one to review potential failure modes (PFMs) and one to evaluate the risks associated with the PFMs.

Both PIs and CAs will require you to submit an Inspection Plan and a Pre-Inspection Preparation Report to FERC in advance of the inspection. You will need to work with your selected consultant to prepare these documents.

CAs require a facilitator and a team of subject matter experts in addition to the Independent Consultant IC(s). Prior to starting the risk workshop, you and your consultant team will also develop probabilistic analyses for flood and earthquake loading along with estimates of life loss, property damage, and economic impacts from flooding associated with a dam breach.

The additional workshops, staffing, and analyses required for a CA will cost substantially more than a Part 12 Inspection performed under the previous guidelines. It’s important to understand, however, that these workshops and analyses will also provide significant value to you. That’s because these additional requirements will create improved awareness of the factors driving risk at the dam, allowing you to engage in Risk Informed Decision Making (RIDM) processes. This means you’re equipped to better prioritize additional investigations, studies, or other risk-reduction measures. For example, the risk analyses may indicate that costly upgrades for extreme, low frequency events may not be the best investment to lower the overall project risk. Also, there may be ways for owners to find cost savings associated with these new inspections, such as teaming with other nearby dam owners to study a watershed or river system in advance of a CA.

The updated FERC regulations all lead to the same questions: Does the dam safety engineering community have the experience to implement the new rules and guidelines? How do owners, licensees, consultants, and regulators prepare, especially when there is already a shortage of FERC-approved ICs in the industry?

All parties, including regulators, owners, and consultants, have work to do to gain the expertise to execute the upcoming workload. As consultants, our team focuses on gaining experience: We attend training sessions, partner with outside experts, facilitate and co-facilitate, and we participate in PIs and Cas, and on other projects requiring risk workshops or RIDM.

Over the past several years, we have been involved in a CA pilot program, gaining hands-on experience facilitating L2RA workshops and developing Hazard and Consequence Analyses. We are also working on the design of new dams that included risk analyses to select the appropriate inflow design flood for design of the spillways. More of our clients are looking to thoughtfully improve the safety of their dam inventories using RIDM, and we are using these opportunities to capitalize on cross training and building a deep bench of expertise.

The 2021 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report Card indicated that the average age of the nation’s dams is 57 years old. With our aging infrastructure, RIDM will be an important tool for prioritizing repairs and upgrades to dams and other infrastructure.  We hope that these new regulations and guidelines can usher in a common sense, risk-informed, safer, and more cost-effective approach to dam safety while reducing the overall risk to dam owners, licensees, and the public.

To learn more about the new guidelines and how we can help you navigate them, contact us: Gillian and PJ.