State Control of Design and Construction of Dams and Reservoirs*

State Control of Design and Construction of Dams and Reservoirs*

The Connecticut statutes passed in 1878 provide for the repair of unsafe dams as well as for approved design and construction of new dams. This paper is confined to the actual operation of the law in regard to new dams in eastern Connecticut with which the writer was connected as engineer for the owners or for the State, or of which he had special knowledge. The essential part of the law so far as this paper is concerned is as follows:

“Section 1803. Approval of Dams.—Before any person or corporation shall construct a dam or reservoir in a locality where life or property may be endangered through the insufficiency thereof, the plans and specifications for such dam or reservoir shall be submitted to a member of said board of civil engineers, who shall examine the ground where the dam or reservoir is to be built and the plans and specifications therefor; if he approve the same, he shall issue a certificate authorizing the construction of such dam or reservoir. No such dam or reservoir shall be constructed without such approval and certificate.

“Section 4804. Inspection of Work; certificate of approval.—The engineer under whose authority a dam or reservoir is being constructed shall inspect the work or cause the same to be inspected at least three times before completion; and if he shall be satisfied that such dam or reservoir has been built in a substantial and safe manner, in accordance with the plans and specifications approved by him, and is strong and secure, he shall issue a certificate approving the same, which certificate shall he recorded in the office of the town clerk of the town in which such dam or reservoir is located. No such dam or reservoir shall be used until such certificate is obtained and recorded.”

All the expense of approval and inspection is borne by the owner of the dam. The first experience that the writer had with the practical operation of the law was about twenty-three years ago, when he made he plans for a dam for a manufacturer under the specific direction of the local member of the State Board. As engineer he made no surveys, did not see the site and exercised no discretion whatever, and never saw or heard of the dam afterward. Presumably it was built and is standing. For the second dam the writer made a survey of the ground, hut prepared the plans and specifications in accordance with the direction of the State Engineer. The owner at first refused to have grades and lines given for starting the construction work, on the theory that the contractor had agreed to build the dam and the owner had nothing further to do. On the refusal of the contractor to begin the work until lines were given on forms erected by him, the owner caused such lines to be given. The dam was built without other inspection that that given by the State Engineer. When the reservoir first filled with water the whole spillway section went downstream, leaving the remainder of the dam, which, like the spillway, was of stone masonry, standing unharmed. It should be remembered that the law does not require the State Engineer to visit a dam more than three times. Later the dam was rebuilt in accordance with the same plans and specifications, under the constant supervision of an inspector, and it is still standing after more than twenty years has elapsed. In another case the writer made plans and specifications for a dam for the owner under the direction of the State Engineer and the dam is in good condition at the end of twenty-five years. In a case coming under his observation plans were approved In the State Engineer, who declined to approve the construction because no spillway was provided. A spillway was added later when its necessity had been demonstrated, fortunately without damage. In another and very important case the writer had opportunity to know about, the plans and construction were approved by the State Engineer. A portion of the spillway, about 200 feet in length, went out on account of an insufficient foundation, and was replaced by a timber construction. The State Engineer took no part in this replacement, deciding that it was “repairs,” and that approval of repairs was not required by law. This State Engineer had a record of at least nine dams, two of which failed in part, and in neither ease was the failure due to the plans or specifications. No very serious damage to other than the owners occurred as a result of these failures. The damage to the owners was about $80,000. In about the year 1891, on the death of the former incumbent, the w riter was appointed a member of the Connecticut State Board of Engineers, having supervision of dams and reservoirs. In regard to small proposed dams, the question as to necessity of State control in specific cases has sometimes arisen. The writer declined to decide these cases. If the owner wished to run the risk of building without approval, the writer saw no reason for objecting. If the owner preferred to be on the safe side and obtain approval, his attitude was unchanged. When the capacity of the spillway was decided, it was required that the spillway masonry he of sufficient dimensions to bring the resultant within the “middle third” of the base with the water at level of top of abutments with no water downstream from the dam. When competent inspectors were constantly on the work, and the State Engineer had faith in the owner and builder, five visits only were made; the first to examine the site, the last to inspect the finished structure, and three at intermediate times. In cases where builders and engineers were inexperienced in dam building, and especially when the only engineer employed was also the contractor, more frequent visits were made. In one case the work was visited two or three times a week while the masonry was in progress. While the writer has been a member of the State Board, he has bis own plans for dams approved by other members of the State Board, whose practise has been substantially like that herein described. On one occasion, the State Engineer required an increased width of embankment. In one case a water privilege was sold subject to the provision that any dam erected thereon should meet the approval of an engineer employed by the grantor, who was the owner of the adjoining downstream privilege on which was a large amount of property likely to be damaged in case of failure of the dam. The writer was employed by the grantor, and another member of the State Board represented the State. Quite a serious controversy arose, in which several engineers took part. The final result was a much safer dam than the owner would have built had be depended on his own engineer. The following interesting question arose on the dam finally built. Is a dam having a substantial amount of earth embankment and depending on non-automatic gates to pass freshet water “built in a substantial and safe manner…and…strong and secure” in the meaning of the statute?

*Read before the New England Waterworks Association at Washington, D. C., Sept. 18.

The State Engineer approved the plans, but the writer declined to do so under the deed, but after certain changes recommended by him had been made in the plans, his employers entered into an agreement allowing the building of the dam in the manner above described.

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