New law to impact dam owners

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Wed., Jul. 31, 2013
The new law concerning dam inspection goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. Photos by D. Coffey.
The new law concerning dam inspection goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014. Photos by D. Coffey.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, dam owners across the state will be responsible for the inspection of their dams, rather than the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The change will impact owners of those dams that meet the criteria for DEEP regulation. 

Dams in Connecticut are categorized from low to high, according to the hazard they present to life and property. Dams rated A (low hazard) must be inspected at least every 10 years. Dams with a C (high) classification must be inspected at least every two years. Those timelines can be adjusted at the state's discretion, depending on weather and circumstances that could impact the safety of the structures. Dams classified AA (impounds less than 3 acre-feet of water) may be exempt from periodic inspections by the Commissioner unless such a dam poses unique hazards.

The law will require owners to hire civil engineers to conduct inspections, write reports and file them with the DEEP. The state will review the reports and order repairs and maintenance, if necessary. And for the first time, some owners may need to create emergency plans in case their dams fail.

According to Thompson Wetlands Agent Marla Butts, the initial focus will be on high-hazard dams, or class C dams. “There probably won't be a big impact on Thompson,” she said. Hazard classifications can change with new developments. “If someone were to build a house immediately downstream from a dam, that could change the hazard classification without changing the dam at all,” she said. Increases in run-off that develop upstream could also do it. “What's downstream makes a difference,” she said.

That's why DEEP wants people to keep their dams in good shape, Butts said. Trees should be cleared from the dams because roots can decay and create pathways through which water can run. Trees can blow down in storms and rip out sections of dam or chunks of soil. People are advised to keep dikes and embankments clear of significant woody vegetation. “They don't like any trees greater than a few inches in diameter,” Butts said.

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