Public Safety Around Dams

Dams are structures that hold back water that is later used to generate electricity. Dams can be made of earth and rocks, concrete or wood. A lake created by a dam is usually called a reservoir.

In Canada, most large dams are related to the generation of electricity. Clean, renewable hydro power is an important part of Newfoundland and Labrador’s electricity system.

When it is required for hydro generation, water from the reservoir is taken through an intake to the plant where the turbines change the force of the water into electricity. The water is then released back into a river. If the reservoir becomes full before water can be used for electricity generation, the water is spilled, meaning it is bypassed around the plant and not used to generate power.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Hydro and Nalcor Energy own and maintain approximately 200 dams, dikes and hydraulic structures. These structures are used to store water for use by the hydroelectric plants owned by Hydro and Nalcor Energy.

The Island of Newfoundland

There are nine hydroelectric generating plants on the island of Newfoundland that are operated by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro:

  1. Bay d’Espoir Hydroelectric Generating Facility located on the southern part of Newfoundland.
  2. Cat Arm Hydroelectric Generating Station located on the Northern Peninsula.
  3. Granite Canal Hydroelectric Generating station located in central Newfoundland.
  4. 4. Hinds Lake Hydroelectric Generating Station located on the eastern shore of Grand Lake.
  5. Paradise River Hydroelectric Generating Station —located at the mouth of the Paradise River near the Burin Peninsula.
  6. Roddickton Hydro Plant located near the town of Roddickton.
  7. Snook’s Arm and Venam’s Bight. These two plants are located on the Baie Verte Peninsula.
  8. Upper Salmon Hydroelectric Generating Station located in south – central Newfoundland


There are many safety hazards associated with dams used for generating electricity but most accidents occur because people are unaware of the risks surrounding these hydraulic structures. It is important to always be cautious around all water bodies to ensure your safety.

Here are a couple of reasons why these structures are dangerous:

  • As a result of remote operation of hydroelectric facilities, some dams can release water at any time, any day of the year. This means that calm waters can suddenly turn into rapids with strong undertows that can easily pull you under the water. In some locations, Hydro will sound an audible alarm when gates are opening.
  • Dams have swift intake currents that take people by surprise. Whirlpools and eddies are often located around intake structures.
  • As electricity demands change and as a result of water management, gates are opened and closed regularly. These changes can result in rapid water level and flow changes which can pose hazards to the public.
  • Waters in the head ponds above hydroelectric dams and stations and the waters directly below them are particularly dangerous. Fast-moving water coming from the station or dam creates dangerous turbulence and strong undercurrents.


  • Obey all warning signs. These may be fences, buoys, booms and barriers.
  • Avoid areas upstream and downstream of generating facilities including dams, reservoirs, rivers, powerhouses and electrical equipment.
  • Stay a safe distance outside of warning signs, buoys, booms and barriers when swimming, fishing and boating.
  • Stay off hydroelectric dams or station structures, unless there are clearly indicated public walkways, or observation points.
  • Never underestimate dry river beds below dams. They can quickly change into rapidly flowing waterways.
  • Stay well back from the edge of a waterway where footing may be slippery or unstable, or wear a personal flotation device when near the water’s edge.
  • Be alert for changes in water levels.
  • Never stand, anchor or tie your boat below a dam. Water levels and flows can change rapidly, swamping your boat or putting you in the grip of an undertow.