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In the northeastern United States, we have been removing dams for almost as long as we have been building them, yet many communities involved in current decisions to repair, replace, or remove a dam are not aware of this. This paper highlights some of the stories that have been recorded regarding the history of decision points for dams, including the colorful history of the Billerica Dam in Massachusetts, which has been removed and rebuilt numerous times and is now under consideration for removal for at least the sixth time in its 300 yr history.

By understanding that dam removal is just one of the potential dam safety decisions that needs to be analyzed over the life cycle of a dam, and that dams are man-made structures with finite life spans, we can deconstruct the notion of dam removal as a radical concept. Dam removal is just one of many dam safety options that may be discussed over the course of a dam’s history. It is most commonly implemented when a dam no longer serves any economic purpose that justifies the expense of maintaining the dam structure.

In the past, dams have been removed for many of the same reasons that we remove dams today; however, the procedures currently required to remove a dam are far more complex and highly regulated. This has led to increased documentation of dam removal efforts and now allows us to compare and categorize dam removal projects, such that the lessons learned from these projects can be incorporated into a more informed decision-making process in the future.

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