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Responsibilities of a Dam Owner

  • Dam owners have obligations. To help you minimize exposure to liability due to ownership and/or operation, this fact sheet helps with basic information about owning a dam. Owner responsibility fact sheet [PDF]
  • Owner responsible inspections (large dams) – Chapter 31, Wis. Stats., requires owners of large dams to hire professional engineers with experience in dams to inspect their dams once every two to 10 years, depending on the hazard rating of their dams. Prepare for an inspection page
  • Recurring inspections by owners (all dams) – The owner of a dam needs to inspect their dam on a regular basis and after any high water event. The purpose is to look for changes that may indicate the need for repairs or even the existence of serious deficiencies that if left unaddressed could lead to failure of the dam. Owner inspection page
  • Operation – Dam owners/operators are responsible for maintaining pool elevations behind the dam within authorized or historic levels. This means the owner/operator needs to monitor flow conditions, precipitation rates and high-water events.
  • Maintenance – Owners of a dam can expect to conduct periodic maintenance and item replacement. Some items such as mowing and filling rodent holes require more frequent attention than others.
  • Repairs – Over time, water pressure and weathering will slowly break down a dam. At some point dam owners can expect that more extensive repairs or reconstruction will be needed. Plan approvals from Wisconsin DNR are required for repairs or reconstruction. Permits page
  • Development of the EAP and IOM – The emergency action plan and inspection, operation and maintenance plan are written plans that are required for large dams and recommended for small dams. More information is available in the “Related resources” box above.
  • Obtaining permits – Buying or selling property with a dam, repairs/reconstruction and dam removal are examples of activities that require a permit from Wisconsin DNR. Permits page

Related resources


Contact information
DNR Dam Safety
DNR Dam Safety Program, WT/3
101 S Webster St
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707–7921