Dam Safety has been an issue in Massachusetts since at least 1874 when the failure of a dam on the Mill River in Williamsburg killed 139 people. The issue again came to the fore in 2005 when over 2,000 people were evacuated from parts of Taunton as a precaution against the potential failure of the Whittenton Pond Dam. After the events in Taunton, an increased emphasis was placed on the inspection and monitoring of the all the dams in Massachusetts, both publically and privately owned. Dam owners must arrange to have their structure(s) inspected by a qualified professional engineer experienced in dam safety. The results of these inspections are forwarded to the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Office of Dam Safety (ODS).
Today, there is a much improved understanding of the condition of Low, Significant, and High hazard dams throughout the Commonwealth. The challenge has now shifted to addressing the deficiencies which have been identified and bringing existing structures. After receiving Phase I Dam Inspections from dam owners, the ODS assesses the findings and recommendations and issues Dam Safety Orders requiring action. These Orders are issued by the Commonwealth to promote the protection of public safety. There is now pending legislation which would both enhance the Commonwealth’s ability to regulate dam safety and provide financial assistance to dam owners in complying with Dam Safety Orders. Senate Bill 01985, sponsored by Senator Marc Pacheco, is an Act Further Regulating Dam Safety, Repair and Removal. This program will explore the details and status of this Act and offer an opportunity for discussion.