Dam Management Grant Program Overview

Program Purpose
hydroelectric damThere are approximately 2,500 Michigan dams listed in the State of Michigan Dam Inventory and many more that are not included in this database. Most of these dams were built decades ago for a variety of uses including power generation, water supply, flood storage and recreation. However, many dams no longer serve their original purpose, have no economic purpose, are threatening public safety and are literally falling apart. For example, several hydropower dams have been decommissioned and sold to local municipal or township governments to manage as waterfront recreation sites, but the structures have met or exceeded their expected life. These dams require continuous, often expensive maintenance that many owners are either unable or reluctant to provide. Representatives of several communities have approached the Department seeking financial and technical assistance to remove dams rather than repair and maintain these facilities. It is also likely the State will be required to take ownership of some of these decaying assets through tax reversion. The program will help to enable the removal of dams without any economic purpose.

In addition to the dams with no economic purpose, there are a number of dams with a clear economic benefit but need substantial investment to reduce public safety issues. For example, the Department of Natural Resources owns approximately 250 dams of which six are rated as high hazard and 16 others are considered to be a significant risk to public safety. The highest priority dams that require immediate attention are: 1) the Kalamazoo River Dams (Otsego, Plainwell #1 and Trowbridge Dams in Allegan County) which require perpetual maintenance as we await EPA's safe removal of PCBs from impoundments; and 2) Wraco Wildlife Flooding (Roscommon County) which required emergency repairs to prevent collapse this summer and urgently requires additional repairs to stabilize the dam. More than 80 of the lower hazard dams also require significant repairs. These dams exist to support fish rearing operations, recreational fishing and camping, and wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities. There are many other economically viable dams with various owners with similar public safety issues this program can help address.

To Remove or Repair: A Case for Dam Removal
Dam removal siteDam removal has many economic and environmental advantages. Dams obstruct recreational users of rivers and block movement of fish, other aquatic organisms and natural nutrient flows. Natural flow patterns are disrupted, causing numerous changes in stream configuration and aquatic species composition. Impoundments behind dams often have poorer water quality and abnormally high or low water temperatures in comparison to the streams they impound, making them less conducive to many desirable fish species that are traditionally found in streams. The impounded water also represents a direct loss of stream habitat that becomes buried under accumulated sediment. In many cases, sediments have accumulated to the extent that impoundments are too shallow for boating. Removal of a dam can cost three to five times less than what it costs to repair or rebuild and maintain a dam over the life of the dam. Periodic inspections and maintenance are continual, on-going expenses, and costs are frequently paid by the public. Removal of dams in poor condition also eliminates the risk to public safety, downstream property, and aquatic habitat posed by dam failure.

It is frequently far less expensive in the long term to the citizens of the state to have a dam removed than to deal with perpetual maintenance of a structure that no longer serves a societal function. It is often the case that the cost to repair a dam properly is nearly the same as removal and removal is a permanent solution to the problems with a particular structure. Thus, the return on the investment over the expected life of a dam is much greater with dam removal when the perpetual cost of maintenance is taken into account.

Program Objectives
This program is designed to address the Governor's direction on community infrastructure needs as stated in his 2011 address on this issue. The key objectives and priorities addressed by this program are:

  • Removal of impairments to watershed processes that include: connectivity; fish and wildlife passage; hydrology; sediment and woody debris transport; water quality; fish community composition and size structure.
  • Resolution of public safety concerns.
  • Increased public involvement in watershed issues.
  • Increased access to aquatic resources.
  • Improving quality of life in urban areas.
  • High rate of return on dam management investments.

Eligible Projects
Projects that would be eligible under this program are:

  • Removal of dams that have no economic purpose resulting in the enhancement of aquatic environments and the reduction of long term infrastructure costs.
  • Repair/major maintenance of dams which have an economic purpose that are an imminent public safety issue and are deemed of unsatisfactory condition by the DEQ Dam Safety Program or are under DEQ order.

Ineligible Projects
Projects with scope of work outside the grant focus area are not eligible for Dam Management Grant support. Within the focus area, the following types of projects are also not eligible:

  • Feasibility or ecological studies.
  • Experimental and unproven methods to rehabilitate river channels after dam removals or used in rehabilitating a dam.
  • Routine maintenance activities and operational costs.
  • Any project where the estimated repair/major maintenance is less than 50% of the estimated cost of replacing the structure.