Funding Dam Removals Through Section 404 and Natural Resource Damage Regulatory Compliance


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Resources for the Future


The United States has a diverse experience with dam removal. In some places, the motivation for dam removal was migratory fish passage. Opportunities to naturalize riverine flow patterns to support resident fish or improve water quality conditions motivated other removals. In some places, a dam was removed to eliminate a drowning hazard, and in other instances, removing a dam in poor condition was less costly than paying to repair it. However, more often than not, multiple motivations led to removing a dam; these varied depending on whether the dam owner was a private individual, a business, a community association, or a state or local government. The nation’s dam removal experience reflects diversity in not only motivations and ownership but also scale and cost, ranging from a few relatively large structures in major rivers to hundreds of small and sometimes partially breached dams (Walls and Gonzales). The cost to remove a dam can be significant. Small dams can cost $100,000 or more, but larger dams, often those with sediment management requirements, can run well into the millions. The cost to remove the dam itself may only be a small part of the total cost of removal. Project management extends over several years to build public support, obtain dam and landowner agreement, navigate permitting processes, and secure and coordinate multiple funding sources; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and staff at resource agencies make direct expenditures and provide in-kind services for project management costs.