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Dam Safety

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Dam Safety

Dams, even small dams, are significant structures that can have major public safety and environmental implications. As a result, dams are regulated by a variety of federal, state and local laws. Beyond its regulatory authority, the state also has considerable interest in working with dam owners to see that dams are safe by being well maintained and responsibly operated. The information below is provided to help dam owners and prospective dam owners to understand the implications of owning, maintaining and operating a dam.

Dam Ownership

The decision to acquire and own even a small dam is a major one that will result in long-term legal and financial obligations. A careful investigation of the costs and benefits is imperative so that the prospective owner can make a well-informed decision before acquiring a dam. Some of the factors to consider are found here.

Further information useful to dam owners, and prospective owners, is available from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO). Resources available from ASDSO include two brochures:


Regulations and Permits

Dams that impound more than 500,000 cubic feet of water, sediment or other liquid are regulated by state statute, 10 V.S.A. Chapter 43. Smaller dams may be regulated under other state statutes. Dams may also be subject to federal and local jurisdiction. More information on the regulations and permits related to dams is available on our Regulations and Permits page.


Consulting Engineers

Sections 1080(4), 1083(b) and 1090 of the Vermont statute dealing with the construction, alteration and safety of dams (10 V.S.A. Chapter 43) require that the dam owner retain the services of a registered professional engineer, licensed to practice in Vermont, "who has experience in the design and investigation of dams" to design and supervise construction or alteration of any dam requiring approval from the department under Section 1082. Even if a dam does not require state approval, the department recommends that engineering assistance in the design and construction of the dam be obtained so that public safety considerations are adequately addressed and a satisfactory project is achieved.

It is desirable, but not necessary, that the design engineer also provide the required construction supervision. The engineer providing construction supervision should consult with the design engineer when necessary to insure that any design changes or changed conditions meet the design intent. Some consultants will not design a dam for which they do not provide the construction supervision or vice versa.

The qualifications, experience, fees and availability of engineers may vary considerably. It is therefore important that a dam owner seek proposals from several engineers and carefully explore their qualification and experience related to dams of the type and size under consideration, as well as their fees and availability, before making a selection.  Additional information may be found in the brochure Dam Ownership – Procuring the Services of a Professional Engineer published by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. The brochure lists several important attributes a prospective engineer should have.


Inspection Program

The Department of Environmental Conservation has a program to inspect dams on a periodic basis. The program is voluntary on the part of the owner and is a service provided free of charge. The inspection frequency is based on the hazard classification of the dam.  DEC has a document (pdf) with much more information on dam inspections and hazard classification.


Design Services and Financial Assistance

The Department of Environmental Conservation does not provide site evaluations, design services or financial assistance for the construction or alteration of dams. It is up to the owner/applicant to retain a consulting engineer. We will, however, review the scope of engineering services (but not the fees) in a proposal if requested by the dam owner.

Limited technical assistance and funding are available for dam removal projects. The degree of assistance available is based on the ecological and public safety benefits that would result from dam removal, among other factors. Additional information on dam removal is available on the Water Quality Division's Dam Removal page or by contacting Brian Fitzgerald at 802.241.3468 or brian.fitzgerald@state.vt.us.


Beaver Dams

Beaver dams or beavers on a private landowner's property that are causing damage such as blocking road culverts, spillways or gates on a dam may be removed and the beavers killed (shot or trapped) by the landowner without obtaining prior approval from the Fish and Wildlife Department. However, if the landowner keeps the pelt of the beaver, this must be reported to the local game warden within 84 hours.

The Fish and Wildlife Department will not provide trapping or other removal services for a landowner. However, the local game warden will provide the name of a local trapper who the landowner can contact and make arrangements to have the beaver removed.

Destruction of beavers or beaver dams on the property of others is prohibited without landowner permission. For further advice, contact the local game warden.





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VT DEC Facilities Engineering Division  1 National Life Drive, Main 1   Montpelier, VT  05620-3510 Tele: 802-828-1880 Fax: 802-828-1552

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