Nineteenth Century Dams and Twentieth Century Problems: Commentary on a Statutory Solution

G. Graham Waite, The Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law


In times past streams were commonly dammed to provide water power for machinery, improve navigation, or serve some other business purpose. The dams today pose serious problems for the public and for riparian owners' along the dammed streams, problems stemming from either operation of the dams or failure to maintain them properly. The dams are operated to further the business purposes for which they were built, sometimes resulting in water levels or flows detrimental to game fish in the streams and to shoreline recreational property.2 When the old dams cease to be economical to operate, as often has happened, the owners may stop maintaining them and allow their decay, or may remove them altogether. Either response results in lowering the water level of the impoundment, thereby exposing previously submerged land and piling along the edges of the pond to the aesthetic and financial detriment of persons owning improved shoreline property. Riparian owners downstream may also experience unwanted changes to their property through changes in the current and quantity of stream flow effected by decay or removal of the dam.