How to Remove a Dam

In the vast majority of cases, dam removals only proceed with the consent of the dam owner.  The owner, or the owner and partners, must begin the dam removal process by learning as much about the dam as possible, including information about its history, hazard classification, safety record, current and past uses, construction type, and ownership.  Consult the NJDEP Bureau of Dam Safety and Flood Control, local historical societies and watershed groups, and state and municipal records to help gather this information.  

The length of time from initiation of a project through removal varies greatly and may last from one year to several years. The timeline depends upon the complexity of the pre‐removal activities, including the feasibility study and design, the length of time to acquire permits, the timing of allowable construction activities, and fundraising.  The actual dam removal can take anywhere from a few days to a few months. 

In addition to addressing the technical issues, there are several community or social issues that must be addressed before removing a dam.   The most common issues are personal or community attachment to the dam and lake or impoundment, potential water supply issues (i.e., groundwater wells), impacts to property values and historic concerns, among others.  Working closely with those who assign high value to the impoundment is critical– the potential benefits associated with the removal of the dam and the loss of the impoundment, and the costs of alternatives (e.g., maintenance, flooding, liability), need to be made clear, all while respecting the interests of the people.