International Joint Commission Report Calls for Regular Government Inspection of Dams


Without regular government inspection, the International Joint Commission (the Commission) does not know if all dams along the U.S.-Canada border are safe.

The Commission has found that some dams and dykes along the border in Canada are not subject to regular government inspections and that, although the situation is better in the United States, there are also dams in the U.S. that are not inspected regularly. The Commission considers that inspections arranged by the owners of these structures do not adequately protect the public interest. Furthermore, the Commission is not satisfied that effective emergency action plans have been put in place and tested for all structures.

The International Joint Commission has reported to the governments of the United States and Canada on the arrangements that are in place to ensure the safe operation and maintenance of dams and dykes subject to its jurisdiction in boundary areas. The Commission considers that existing laws and practices in the United States and Canada are not sufficient to ensure that all these structures are safe and has made recommendations for government action to protect people and property in the two countries.

Failure of some of these dams and dykes could have catastrophic consequences for people and property in the United States and Canada. The Commission has therefore recommended that governments oversee the safety of these structures and require:


  • Regular, periodic, complete and independent on-site inspections by qualified experts;
  • A reasonable timetable for implementation of all inspection report recommendations;
  • Establishment and regular testing of emergency action plans which take account of possible eventualities and include detailed notification procedures, identification of responsibilities, provision for transboundary coordination, and inundation maps; and
  • Public access to all reports and documentation relating to safety issues.

The Commission has also recommended that the United States and Canadian governments arrange for joint oversight of structures that extend across the border.

If the Commission does not receive a substantive response to its report from the governments by June 1, 1998, it may consider requiring owners to periodically provide the Commission with copies of government safety inspection reports; confirm that all maintenance and repairs recommended in those reports are being undertaken within a reasonable time; and to develop and provide the Commission with copies of an emergency action plan.

In those cases where regular government safety inspection reports are still not available, the Commission will consider possible means of addressing public safety in the interim.

The Commission is an international organization established by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada to prevent boundary waters disputes and to settle questions along the border. The Commission approves applications to construct and operate certain projects in waters that flow along or across the boundary that affect levels or flows in the other country. It also examines and reports on questions referred to it by both governments, and alerts them to issues requiring their attention.

For a complete text of the report please consult our website

Contact Jill Eynon
Fabien Lengellé Washington, D.C.
Ottawa, Ontario (202) 736-9023
(613) 995-2984