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Localize coverage of the Oroville Dam collapse with our national database

The NICAR Data Library has updated the National Inventory of Dams (NID), a database kept by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on dams in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico with details that include structure type, purpose, owner, most recent inspection date and inspection frequency. The data also includes latitude and longitude.

The safety of America’s dams has been in the spotlight after the main spillway at the Oroville Dam in California, the country’s tallest, collapsed.

You can use these records to zero in on neglected and potentially dangerous dams in your area. In the past, newsrooms have used the data to produce stories on emergency preparedness, aging infrastructure, and the effect of dams on the environment.

More than 3,000 dams have been added to the inventory since the last update from the NICAR Data Library in 2015. In this most recent update, the USACE has included previously-withheld information in the inventory. These two fields list the name of the closest city to the dam and its distance from the dam. The USACE still withholds the hazard ranking of individual dams from the public. The hazard ranking indicates how bad it would be if a dam fails; a dam is ranked “high hazard” if people will likely die in that event. Seventeen percent of the nation’s 90,500 dam structures fall into this category. 

While the USACE will not release that information for individual dams, they do provide state-level data. We’ve compiled that into a spreadsheet and included it with the 2016 update. We also include the 2015 dataset as well as the 2002 version of the database which includes hazard rankings. This 2002 data is a starting point for further reporting but note that the rankings might have changed since then.

The team at NICAR has created a guide to getting started with the data and finding the story. You can also download additional documentation from the NID database page.

The IRE Resource Center also has tipsheets and stories to help you get started:

  • Infrastructure CAR (tipsheet): The authors list and explain sources for infrastructure data and describe how they can be used for CAR stories.
  • Probes into dams and bridges (tipsheet): Davidson suggests possible issues to investigate and offers suggestions on how to proceed.
  • Disaster Ahead? Deregulated Dams (story): An old Tennessee law allows dams to be downgraded from high-hazard status, exempting them from safety regulations.
  • Dangerous Dams (story): This story details the lax enforcement of rules and regulations of high-hazard dams that are in imminent danger of failing.

To purchase this data from NICAR, IRE members should visit the NID database page and log in to purchase and download the data online. Non-members should contact the Data Library at or (573) 884-7711.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.

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