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2008 Dam Regulations Could Cost Private Dam Owners Millions of Dollars

Task Force Hopes to Intervene

In September 2011, Governor McDonnell announced the creation of the Governor’s Task Force for Local Government Mandate Review. This five-member task force resulted from legislation introduced during the 2011 General Assembly session to review state mandates and to recommend suspension or repeal of such mandates.

One of the mandates reviewed by the task force was the increased dam regulations adopted in 2008 that raised dam safety standards and required many dams and watersheds across Virginia be brought into compliance.

The task force’s conclusion was that the pre-2008 regulations sufficed and existing infrastructure that complied with the pre-2008 regulations have handled historic flooding with little to no issues. The regulations adopted in 2008 mean that dam owners must now improve dam and watershed infrastructure to bring them into compliance at a cost of millions of dollars per dam on average.

The task force has recommended to the governor to amend regulations to seek a greater balance between risk, economics, and public safety. The task force wants to support efforts to relax the existing (2008) requirements and study the issue further.

The key elements of the revised regulations that affect private dam owners are:
1. Specify that spillway design requirements are applicable to all regulated dams regardless of the date they were built;
2. Modify the spillway design requirements;
3. Allow for the potential reduction of the spillway design flood requirements through incremental damage assessments for all qualifying dams;
4. Establish dam break inundation zone mapping requirements in order to identify areas that will be subject to flooding during a dam failure;
5. Expand emergency action plans for High and Significant Hazard Potential dams and emergency preparedness plan requirements for Low Hazard Potential dams; and
6. Update sections related to inspections, enforcement, and unsafe conditions.

Multiple other changes to fee structures, definitions, and organization were also made. For the hundreds of privately owned high and significant hazard dams in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the financial burden to the owner could be in the millions of dollars.

Koontz-Bryant, P.C. will continue to monitor the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s regulations for further update’s and for the Governor’s decision on the task force’s recommendations.