PA 07-61—sSB 1091

Environment Committee

Planning and Development Committee

Judiciary Committee

AN ACT CONCERNING DAM SAFETY

SUMMARY: This act makes several changes to the laws on dams and dam inspections. Specifically, it:

1. authorizes municipal officials to inspect certain dams they believe pose a public safety concern;

2. requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) commissioner to notify a dam owner if a dam needs to be repaired or maintained to keep it safe;

3. requires owners of property with “high hazard” or “significant hazard” dams to record the dams' presence and classification in town land records; and

4. tightens permit requirements for people constructing dams and related structures in certain situations.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2007

DAM INSPECTION BY LOCAL OFFICIALS

By law, the DEP commissioner has jurisdiction over dams, dikes, and similar structures whose failure might endanger life or property. The act authorizes a municipality's chief elected official or his designee to inspect a dam under DEP's jurisdiction in his municipality if the official reasonably believes it poses a public safety concern. But the act imposes special conditions on water company and hydroelectric dam inspections. It exempts from such inspections a dam the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses (i. e. , most hydroelectric dams).

Under the act, the official may enter private property, within constitutional limits, to inspect the dam after (1) notifying the DEP commissioner and (2) making a reasonable attempt to notify the dam owner. The official must file an inspection report with the commissioner within seven days of the inspection, but must file one immediately if he discovers an immediate public safety threat.

Notification and Inspection of Water Company and Hydroelectric Dams

The act requires an official or designee who believes there is a public safety concern with a dam owned or controlled by a water company or a hydroelectric facility to immediately notify the commissioner and the water company or facility by calling a telephone number in the dam's emergency operation plan on file with the municipality. If no such plan exists, the company or facility may file an emergency notification contact form with the municipality. The commissioner must, by October 1, 2008, develop an emergency notification contact form. If a company or facility files a form with the municipality, the official must use it.

The official may inspect a water company or hydroelectric facility only if (1) a company or facility representative is present; (2) the water company has permitted him to do so; or (3) (a) he has a public safety concern, (b) he notified the commissioner and made a reasonable attempt to notify the company or facility, and (c) a water company representative is unavailable. The second and third options refer to a water company, but not to the owner or operator of a hydroelectric facility. Because water companies do not generally own or operate hydroelectric dams, it is not clear how these provisions apply to hydroelectric facility inspections.

The official must file an inspection report with the commissioner as described above. The act exempts from the notification requirement a municipal official who inspects a water company dam or land his municipality owns or controls.

DEP DAM INSPECTION

By law, the DEP commissioner must inspect all dams and similar structures whose failure would cause death or property damage and must order the repair or removal of an unsafe structure. If she finds a dam must be inspected periodically to reduce the potential danger to life and property, the dam owner must have a registered engineer inspect it at regular intervals.

Under the act, if the commissioner finds, after an inspection, that a dam needs to be maintained or repaired to remain safe, she must notify the dam owner, in writing, that such work is needed. The notification must request that the owner perform the work within a specified time. If the owner does not repair or maintain the dam within the designated time, the commissioner may order the owner to do the repairs or maintenance.

NOTICE OF THE PRESENCE OF CERTAIN DAMS

Starting October 1, 2007, the act requires owners of property where there is a high hazard or significant hazard dam to record in the town land records the dam's presence and classification. The commissioner must publish a standard form for this purpose.

DAM CONSTRUCTION PERMITS

By law, the commissioner may issue a general permit for certain activities if she finds they would only minimally affect the environment. Prior law specifically allowed her to issue a general permit for dam construction if she found it would present a low or negligible safety hazard. The act eliminates her ability to issue a general permit in such cases, requiring people building such dams to obtain an individual permit.

BACKGROUND

Dam Classification

State regulations classify dams by the hazards they would pose if they failed. A high hazard dam is one whose failure would result in (1) probable loss of life; (2) major damage to habitable structures, homes, hospitals, convalescent homes, or schools; (3) damage to main highways; or (4) great economic loss. A significant hazard dam is one whose failure would result in (1) possible loss of life; (2) minor damage to habitable structures, homes, hospitals, convalescent homes, or schools; (3) damage to, or interruption of, utility service; (4) damage to primary roadways or railroads; or (5) significant economic loss (Conn. Agency Regs 22a-409-2(d)).

General and Individual Permits

DEP issues both individual and general permits to regulate activities. Individual permits are issued directly to an applicant, while general permits authorize similar minor activities by one or more applicants. Typically, the commissioner issues a general permit if she determines an activity would cause minimal individual and cumulative environmental effects.

Water Company

For the purposes of this act, a water company is any individual, partnership, association, corporation, municipality, or other entity, or the lessee thereof, that owns, maintains, operates, manages, controls, or employs any pond, lake, reservoir, well, stream, or distributing plant or system that supplies water to two or more consumers or 25 or more people on a regular basis. If the entity or lessee owns or controls 80% of the equity value of more than one such system or company, the number of consumers or people supplied by all the systems is considered as owned by one company (CGS 25-32a).

OLR Tracking: PF: KM: JL: dw