Most dams in Massachusetts have outlived their original purpose and many are in need of costly repairs or removal. Dam owners are increasingly choosing to remove their dams to reduce financial and legal liability and to eliminate the ongoing costs of dam maintenance. The Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) can help interested dam owners understand and evaluate what’s involved with a dam removal. DER may also be able help owners remove an unwanted dam if its removal would result in significant environmental and public benefits. Please contact DER at (617) 626-1540 if you would like to learn more about DER's dam removal program or discuss a potential dam removal project.
- This page, Deciding to Remove Your Dam, is offered by
- Division of Ecological Restoration
Deciding to Remove Your Dam
Table of Contents
Benefits of Dam Removal
Dam removals improve water quality, restore natural river flows, and reconnect river habitats that benefit fish and wildlife. Dam removals can also reduce threats to public safety and prevent flood damage to roads, bridges, and other downstream infrastructure. Some aging dams may be at risk of failing during large storms when powerful flood waters can cause a dam to breach. Dam removal proactively eliminates these risks. Removal of a dam is often less expensive than dam repair and avoids long-term maintenance costs.
Below is a link to a tool you can use to locate a dam and assess the relative environmental benefits of its removal. You can also access a report about the economic benefits of dam removal.
Additional Resources for Benefits of Dam Removal
Dam Removal Process
Dam removals typically take three to five years from start to finish. There are several steps involved in the process, including project planning, fundraising, engineering, permitting, and construction. More information about the dam removal process is provided in A Basic Guide for Project Proponents. This guidebook was produced in 2007. Some content may have changed, but the overall dam removal information it contains is still applicable.
Examples of Dam Removal in Massachusetts
Funding Opportunities for Dam Removal
The total cost of dam removal can be significant depending on how complex it is to remove. Dams with adjacent infrastructure, for example, are usually more costly than smaller dams without nearby buildings or roads. However, dam removal is often less expensive when compared with costs to maintain and repair the dam over time. Because dam removal can result in important benefits to the environment and public safety, dam owners who want to remove a dam may qualify for technical and financial assistance from a variety of sources.
We've assembled a list of funding programs (see state and federal programs in the bullets below) that provide grants for dam removal projects. Grant requirements and timelines for each program may vary from year to year, so check each website regularly and consider joining the organization’s mailing list to receive timely updates on grant programs and deadlines.
- Massachusetts offers several programs that can assist with dam removal, including the Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Program, the Massachusetts Environmental Trust (MET) Grant Program, the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program, and DER's Priority Projects Program.
- In addition, there are several federal programs that can assist with dam removal, including the NOAA Restoration Center and the US Fish & Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and National Fish Passage Program. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is another national organization that can assist with dam removals.
Information about dam ownership can be found through the Office of Dam Safety, including laws applicable to dam ownership, dam owner liabilities and responsibilities (e.g., for regular inspections and maintenance), and hiring professional engineers to help with inspections and regulatory compliance.
Please contact DER at (617) 626-1540 if you would like to learn more about DER's dam removal program and the types of assistance we can provide, or if you would like to discuss a potential dam removal project.