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Regulations and Permits Related to Dams

Dam Orders

Vermont law (10 V.S.A. Chapter 43) requires a permit, or dam order, for construction, alteration or removal of dams (including lagoons, offstream and "dug ponds") impounding more than 500,000 cubic feet of any liquid. The definition of liquid including any accumulated sediments, as measured to the top of the non-overflow part of the structure, i.e., including freeboard.

Permitting for non-hydroelectric dams is administered by the Dam Safety and Hydrology Section. Hydroelectric dams are regulated under the same statute ( 10 V.S.A. Chapter 43) by the Vermont Public Service Board, which may be contacted for more information.

Review of a dam order application will consider two broad issue areas and may include conditions to address these and other issues:

  • Public safety: design criteria, hazard classification, upstream flood impacts.
  • Environmental impacts: water quality (including temperature, dissolved oxygen, conservation flows and erosion control), wetlands and aquatic habitat.

We recommend that all potential applicants contact a Department of Environmental Conservation Permit Specialist early in the planning process. The specialist will be able to help indentify the permits required for a project and provide contact information. Click here for more information. Any dam project is likely to require consultation with the Wetlands Section of the Water Quality Division and the Fish and Wildlife Department's District Fisheries Biologist (213 kb).

A superior court decision (for a similar department permit program) found that the Department of Environmental Conservation does not have the authority to make rules regarding the public trust doctrine. In light of this decision, a dam order issued under 10 V.S.A. Chapter 43 will make no finding or conclusion regarding the project's conformance with the public trust doctrine. There is a possibility that persons other than the department may raise questions, legal arguments, or both, about the validity of an order and the project described in a dam order based on the public trust doctrine.


Other Permits

Other permits may be required instead of, or in addition to, a dam order prior to construction of a dam or work on a new dam. Dams impounding less than 500,000 cubic feet of liquid may require a Stream Alteration Permit, if they would otherwise fall under the jurisdiction of that program. In addition, dams may require a Wetland Conditional Use Determination, an Act 250 Permit, a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Section 401 Water Quality Certification, as well as local permits. Finally, any project that will obstruct the movement of fish requires authorization from the Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife.


Additional Information

For more information about dam-related permitting issues, please contact Steve Bushman.


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