Want to Build a Dam? Stop, Look, Ask, and Listen

What was once a simple decision to dam up a creek or stream and create a pond or small lake for agricultural or recreational purposes is no longer a simple decision. Rather, it is one that could be very expensive, complicated, and very disappointing.

The construction of dams is now a highly regulated activity in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Over the last several years, landowners have had to face the proposition of reversing impoundment activities and draining existing lakes and ponds because of a failure to properly comply with the applicable dam rules and regulations. When permitting requirements exist, it is necessary to conduct extensive engineering and planning activities to ensure compliance.

Certain impoundments are exempt from certain rules and regulations, but anyone intending to construct a dam or otherwise impound waters should make certain that affirmative decisions regarding the need or lack thereof for permitting are made by the proper authorities and documented.

In Virginia, dam construction and impoundment creation is regulated by numerous governmental entities. The primary restrictions and prescriptions are found in the Virginia Dam Safety Act, The Virginia Impounding Structures Regulations, the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Law, the Virginia Erosion and Sediment Control Regulations, the Stormwater Management Act, and the Virginia Stormwater Management Program Regulations. These statutory and regulatory programs are administered in part by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and, in part, by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

In addition to state regulatory agencies, it is important to coordinate any impounding activities with the local building and planning officials and it is further important to determine whether or not such activities may fall within the federal wetland protection programs which are coordinated among the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality together with local wetlands boards.

Contact information for some of the primary points of contact are:

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
Office of Water Permitting

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
Dam Safety and Floodplain Management

Additional Resources

Practices & Specialties

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These articles are provided for general informational purposes only and are marketing publications of Gentry Locke. They do not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. You are urged to consult your own lawyer concerning your situation and specific legal questions you may have.