Dams Sector

The Dams Sector comprises assets, systems, networks, and functions related to dam projects, navigation locks, levees, hurricane barriers, mining byproduct storage, or other similar water retention and control facilities. It is a vital sector of infrastructure that provides a range of economic, environmental, and social benefits—including hydroelectric power, river navigation, water supply, wildlife habitat, waste management, flood control, and recreation. 

New Jersey has approximately 1,700 dams classified as high hazard, significant hazard, or low hazard depending on downstream impacts if the dam were breached. Each dam is unique and the consequences of its failure on the local community, state, and regional economy would vary. As a result, owners and safety officials coordinate closely on community awareness, emergency preparedness, response plans, and operations. The concentration of large dams lies in the northern, more mountainous counties of New Jersey.

Threat

Cyber: Moderate
The threat to the Dams Sector is moderate due to the known targeting of critical infrastructure by both state and non-state actors capable of conducting disruptive, manipulative, or destructive attacks. On March 24, 2016, the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment charging an Iranian citizen for hacking the Bowman Dam in Rye, New York in 2013. The hacker, who was found to be acting on behalf of the Iranian Government, repeatedly obtained unauthorized access to the dam’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. The hacker was able to obtain information on the status and operation of the dam, including water levels and temperature, as well as the status of the sluice gate, which controls water level and flow rate.

Natural Hazards  

Dam failure or levee breaches can occur with little warning. Intense storms may produce a flash flood in a few minutes or hours, while other failures and breaches can take much longer to occur, from days to weeks.

Dam failures vary from natural causes such as prolonged rainfall, landslides, earthquakes, or erosion to human causes such as improper maintenance and design, negligent operation, sabotage, or terrorism. Dam failures are categorized into three groups: (1) overtopping, in which the water level exceeds the top of the dam, (2) excessive seepage, in which water seeps through the ground, and (3) structural failure.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Dam Safety and Flood Control, in August 2011, the combined effect of two storm systems resulted in the failure of 10 dams. The first system dropped up to eleven inches of rain with a reported four dams failing, while Hurricane Irene in 2011 added up to 10 inches with six dam failures.

Preparedness

In 2012, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, developed two informational e-booklets, “Living with Dams: Know Your Risks” and “Living with Dams: Extreme Rainfall Event.” These e-booklets were written with lawmakers, dam owners, and downstream communities in mind, and aim to educate on the risks associated with dams, flood insurance policies and resources, and how to prepare for a dam emergency.

The ASDSO also offers training for dam security and resilience.

DEP’s Bureau of Dam Safety and Flood Control provides resources on dam safety awareness and regulations.

The United States Geological Survey manages the National Hydrography Dataset, which represents the drainage network with features such as rivers, streams, canals, lakes, ponds, coastlines, and dams.

Intelligence Gaps

  • Which operational devices used in the Dams Sector are most vulnerable to cyber threats?
  • When and how have Dams Sector systems in New Jersey been compromised by cyber threat actors? What was the impact?

For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Preparedness Bureau at preparedness@njohsp.gov.