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Construction Permits For Dams

DAM SAFETY: CONSTRUCTION PERMITS FOR DAMS 

Part 315, Dam Safety, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended (NREPA), requires that anyone who desires to construct a dam that is 6 feet or more in height and impounds 5 surface acres or more at the design flood elevation, must first obtain a permit from the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).  

Is a Permit Required for This Dam? 

A person shall not commence construction of a dam unless that person has a valid permit issued by EGLE. According to Part 315, a dam is defined as: 

"… an artificial barrier, including dikes, embankments, and appurtenant works, that impounds, diverts, or is designed to impound or divert water or a combination of water and any other liquid or material in the water; that is or will be when complete 6 feet or more in height; and that has or will have an impounding capacity at design flood elevation of 5 surface acres or more. Dam does not include a storage or processing tank or standpipe constructed of steel or concrete, a roadway embankment not designed to impound water, or a dug pond where there is no impoundment of water or waste materials containing water at levels above adjacent natural grade levels."

In general, a dam that is designed to be 6 feet in height and impound 5 surface acres or more at design flood elevation will require a permit under Part 315. Note that it must meet both the height and the surface area criteria to be regulated by Part 315. 

Obviously, not all dams require a permit under Part 315. For example, a dam may be designed to impound 100 surface acres of water, but the height of the dam may only be 5 feet. Therefore, a permit under Part 315 would not be required. However, a permit under Part 301, Inland Lakes and Streams, of the NREPA, will generally be required, even if the dam does not meet the size criteria for Part 315. Part 301 permit requirements are generally less restrictive than Part 315. There are very few instances where construction of a dam would not require some kind of state or local government permit. 

Applying for a Permit 

The permit application process is a two-step procedure. The first step is a review of the conceptual plans to determine if the proposed project may have significant adverse effect on the public health, safety, welfare, property, or natural resources or the public trust in those natural resources. The second step is a review of plans and specifications to determine if the engineering design is acceptable. 

STEP ONE 

The first step of the permit process will commence once EGLE has received all of the following: 

  • an application form with all of the necessary information filled in 
  • all additional information EGLE may have requested to evaluate the impact of the project on the public health, safety, welfare, property or natural resources or the public trust in those natural resources 
  • all appropriate application fees 
  • the project assessment, and 
  • conceptual plans and specifications for the project 

Application forms may be obtained from EGLE's Water Resources Division (WRD) or district office. The Joint Permit Application is also available on-line. 

After preliminary review of the application, EGLE may request additional information in order to evaluate the impact of the project. All requests by EGLE for additional information will be made in writing. 

Fees are assessed according to the following schedule: 

  • For dams with a height of 6 feet or more but less than 10 feet, $500.00
  • For dams with a height of 10 feet or more but less than 20 feet, $1,000.00
  • For dams with a height of 20 feet or more, $3,000.00
  • For repair, alteration, removal, or abandonment of a dam, $200.00
  • For minor projects, $100.00 

Note that dam construction often impacts natural resources that are regulated under different Parts of NREPA. These dam construction fees are in addition to those required by the other statutes. 

The project assessment is an evaluation of all known existing and potential adverse effects within the scope of the project. This assessment is provided by the applicant and reviewed by EGLE to determine whether the project will have a significant adverse effect on public health, safety, welfare, property, or natural resources or the public trust in those natural resources. The assessment should include both positive and negative impacts consistent with the scope of the project and any mitigating measures to minimize impacts on all of the following: 

  • Wetlands 
  • Fisheries 
  • Wildlife 
  • Threatened and endangered species 
  • Water quality 
  • Stream flows 
  • Sediment transport 
  • Turbidity 
  • Water chemistry 
  • Water temperature 
  • Riparian rights 

This assessment should include impacts on the stream under the impoundment and should address impacts both during construction and after completion of the project. 

Conceptual plans should include, at a minimum, all of the following: 

  • A site plan which shows the location of the dam, the existing stream channel, the normal shoreline of the proposed impoundment, property lines, and dimensions or proper scale 
  • Transverse and longitudinal cross-sections through the dam that show the spillway or spillways, the upstream and downstream water levels, and the stream channel bottom 
  • The location of all occupied dwellings within ¼ mile of the proposed impoundment if the dam is new or if the impoundment elevation is changed 
  • Ingress and egress routes for construction activities 

After receipt of an application, EGLE may request, in writing, such additional information, assessments, design calculations, records, or other documents that may be necessary to evaluate the proposed project. 

Based in part on the information provided by the applicant and in part on comments received by EGLE during a 20-day public notice period, EGLE will conduct the first step of the review to determine the effects of the proposed project on public health, safety, welfare, property, or natural resources or the public trust in those natural resources and riparian rights. EGLE will make one of the following determinations: 

  • The proposed activity is permittable as submitted 
  • The proposed activity is permittable if certain described modifications are made 
  • The proposed activity is not permittable and cannot be modified to result in the granting of a permit 

EGLE will grant or deny a permit within 60 days after the submission of a complete application or within 120 days after the submission of a complete application if a public hearing is held. EGLE will notify the applicant in writing of its determination. EGLE may issue a permit at this time, if the applicant desires, or it may issue a permit after the completion of the second step of the review process. Construction of a dam may not commence, however, until the applicant has received written notice from EGLE stating that the engineering plans and specifications for the project have been accepted by EGLE. 

STEP TWO 

The second step of the application process is to review the formal design plans and specifications. If an activity is permittable as submitted or is permittable if modified, EGLE will then review the engineering plans and specifications. If EGLE has not yet received the required fees or engineering plans and specifications, EGLE will request these at the time an applicant is advised of EGLE's determination. 

When EGLE determines that engineering plans and specifications are acceptable, a permit will be issued, or, if a permit has already been issued, the applicant will be notified, in writing, that plans and specifications are acceptable and the project may commence. If plans and specifications are unacceptable, EGLE will advise the applicant why the plans and specifications are unacceptable and provide a written response explaining how they may be corrected. 

This two step process allows an applicant to receive a determination, or possibly even a permit, prior to expending large resources to prepare engineering plans and specifications for a project that may not be permittable. 

Engineering design work can be completed in the second step of the process, after an EGLE decision has been made on the project.  

Dam Safety program staff are available at any time during the planning, design, and construction phases of a project to assist you or your engineer. For additional information, including permit applications, contact the Dam Safety program at:

Dam Safety Program
EGLE, Water Resources Division
Box 30458
Lansing, Michigan 48909-7958
517-420-8923