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Guide Deciding to Remove Your Dam

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 Kris Houle at kris.houle@mass.gov or 617-626-1543 if you would like to learn more about DER's dam removal program or discuss a potential dam removal project.

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

DER has led over 40 dam removals in Massachusetts. Explore the example projects below to learn more about our dam removal work.

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.

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, and DER's Priority Projects Program.

Additional Information

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.

Contact DER

Please contact Kris Houle at kris.houle@mass.gov or 617-626-1543 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.

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