Dam removal in process
Dams in general, big or small, impede the flow of water and obstruct the continuity of a riverine system. They also decrease oxygen levels in the water, obstruct the downstream movement of silt and nutrients, change river bottom characteristics, and alter the timing and quantity of river flow. Many dams are in a dilapidated condition, in need of repair, and are an economic burden on their owners. Dams can also be public safety hazards, trapping debris and causing sudden burst of water flow downstream thus causing flooding, bank erosion, and other effects.

In many cases, the short-term cost of removal of a non-functioning dam can be significantly more cost-effective than the long-term cost of maintenance and repair, particularly since outside funds are often available for dam removal. Dam removal can also provide significant important economic and social benefits, avoiding public safety impacts, providing river recreation opportunities, and revitalizing community waterfronts.

Dam Guidance cover

To make the dam removal process more easily understood and predictable when it is necessary, in 2007 EEA, with a multi-stakeholder task group, developed a dam removal guidance document that provides greater clarity to dam removal proponents. It provides guidance about required permits, the process involved, and some potential funding sources.

Download the full report, Dam Removal in Massachusetts: A Basic Guide for Project Proponents pdf format of damremoval_guidance.pdf

Summary of General Steps for Dam Removal

The following steps are intended to be very general because every dam removal process will have site-specific engineering, environmental, and community issues that may cause the process to differ. In some cases, not all of these steps will be necessary. Evaluate each step presented here to determine if it is necessary for your project.

Prior to considering removal of a dam, there are certain things that one must consider. Does the dam currently serve any purpose or provide any benefits, such as:

  • Power generation;
  • Flood control;
  • Recreation from the impoundment such as fishing, boating, swimming, etc.;
  • Water supply or irrigation;
  • Road, rail, or other utility crossing;
  • A significant historic structure with integrity of materials, important design or technology elements, or which contributes importantly to the historical setting and character of the site or the area.

If the answer to the above is no and the dam no longer performs its originally intended purpose then it may be ripe for removal. Conversely, if the owner of a dam is interested in removal of the structure or if maintenance of the dam in perpetuity for these purposes is expensive, the structure could be ripe for removal.

While different projects have different timeframes, in general, expect projects to take two-and-a-half to three years from conception to completion: Year One for planning, feasibility, and pre-permitting; Year Two for engineering design and permitting; Year Three for implementation.

The following are steps that would be required in a typical dam removal project.

  1. Initial Reconnaissance - determine breadth and scope of project
  2. Site Visit and Planning Meeting
  3. Fundraising
  4. Feasibility Study - assess scientific and engineering challenges and conceptual approaches
  5. Working with the Community
  6. Final Engineering Design
  7. Permitting
  8. Project Implementation and Construction


Information and Resources



This information is provided by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Office of Water Policy.