Audit finds many Vermont dams in poor condition
CALAIS, Vt. (WCAX) - Hazardous dams can threaten property and, in severe cases, human lives.
Vermont’s Dam Safety Program oversees more than 1,000 known dams across the state. The median age of those dams is 77 years old.
A new state audit report looks at 10 dams in poor condition and the way the Department of Environmental Conservation inspects them.
“This is an issue we’ve been dealing with really since I was a kid,” Jamie Moorby said.
Moorby has lived in Calais for most of her life. She serves on the Curtis Pond Committee and says the nearly 100-year-old Curtis Pond Dam is not up to par. It’s been rated in poor condition for 18 years.
“Whenever Hurricane Irene was, this dam overtopped and there was fear an overtopping event... could cause catastrophic failure,” Moorby said.
Of the 10 dams sampled by the state auditor, five have high hazard potential, meaning a loss of life could occur if something were to go wrong. The other five have significant hazard potential, meaning property damage and other disruption could occur.
In his audit of the state’s Dam Safety Program, Vermont Auditor Douglas Hoffer finds that some inspection reports were not completed on time, some inspection reports never made it to the government entities that own the dams and that some condition information in the reports is incomplete or inaccurate.
“We found they do the work, they’re a little behind but there are inspections and those inspections are recorded but sometimes they’re not as thorough as they should be. Sometimes they’re not reported to the dam owners in a timely fashion. In some instances, we learned they weren’t reported to the state itself,” said Hoffer, D-Vt. Auditor.
According to the DEC, high hazard dams are inspected every two years, significant hazard every five years and low hazard every 10 years.
“It does occasionally happen where dams are not inspected on the timeframe for a variety of reasons like staffing challenges or ability to gain permission from the landowner to gain inspection,” said Benjamin Green, the dam safety engineer for the Vermont DEC.
Green adds that prior to a 2018 statute, the Dam Safety Program didn’t have the authority to enforce dam owner renovation beyond recommending improvements.
The DEC is working with dam safety consultants and owners on the language of rules that would give them this authority.
“The objective is the new rules and the new processes will be much more proactive rather than reactive. We’ll be addressing dams early in the process before the condition has degraded to that extent and be more proactive to dam regulation,” Green said. “We hope to use the audit report to help us continue to make improvements on our program.”
In the meantime, it’s up to private or town-owned dams to find the funding to fix the dam, like the Curtis Pond Association in Calais plans to do.
“We’ll be putting concrete over the lip of this dam in a bigger spillway to allow for high water flow and high water events,” Moorby said.
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