Dams Fall Under State Regulations

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

In the 2002 session of the Virginia Assembly, lawmakers changed dam regulations. The specifications now more closely follow national guidelines issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Effective July 1, 2002, any dam 25 feet tall with a 15-acre foot or more capacity falls under state regulation. In addition, any dam with a 50-acre foot or more capacity that stands at least 6 feet tall is regulated. Previous Virginia law regulated all dams over 25 feet tall AND containing 50 acre feet capacity at the top of the dam (1 acre foot equals 43,560 cubic feet). If a dam previously did not meet both of those specifications, it was exempt from regulation, unless it was especially subject to federal regulation—such as for power-generating dams.

What did this mean to the average homeowner association with a pond or lake on its property? There were nearly 900 previously exempted dams in Virginia, of which about 50 remained size exempted. In Fairfax County, there are 30 known active dams. Nine were previously exempt. All but one of the nine was likely be subject to regulation after 2002. That, in itself, should not be a cause for concern on the part of dam owners. The principal focus of the 2002 regulation was to make sure that owners know they have a dam, that they become aware of the minimum maintenance needs of their dam, and that they become fully aware of potential liability for damages associated with dam failure.

Jon Phillippe, Acting Director of Dam Safety for Virginia, believes that what should be of concern to every dam owner is the condition of the dam, regardless of its size. “Many small dams are of little consequence as far as flooding and loss of life,” said Phillippe. “However, if the dam fails and you lose the lake, you lose the aesthetic value that came with it. Aesthetics are worth a pile of money when assessing property values. It is much cheaper to maintain a dam than to have to repair a deteriorated dam or replace a failed one.”

If you live in Fairfax County and are seeking advice about dam identification and/or maintenance, please contact the Maintenance and Stormwater Management Division at 703-877-2800, TTY 711.

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