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Find where to go with your dam or floodplain question!

Contact information
DNR Dam Safety
DNR Dam Safety Program, WT/3
101 South Webster Street
PO BOX 7921
Madison, WI 53707–7921

Hydro–electric generation

The federal government has jurisdiction over most large dams in Wisconsin that produce hydroelectricity, approximately 150 dams. The Department regulates most of the remaining dams. New hydropower dams were built as late as the 1950s but the greater majority of hydropower dams were built by 1950 or earlier.

In the last twenty years, there has been a handful of old mill or mechanical dams that have been retrofitted for hydropower. These are very small output dams.

While the Department regulates many dams, it is the owner that makes the decision on whether to explore hydro options at their dam. If the owner decides to pursue hydro option, the Department would work with them to review the product and explore permitting issues. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) would also be involved in the permitting process. Permitting would be required for new hydro dams and installation of systems in existing dams, even for very small systems. Permitting would take place either through FERC or the Department. If permitting occurs through FERC, the Department would still have some involvement in the permitting process.

Contact FERC for additional details on their licensing process, and how they determine if a dam is exempt from FERC licensing. You may also find the following website links useful:

Depending on the project, some potential FERC requirements include:

  • Environmental impact statement
  • Water quality certification through the state
  • Emergency action plan
  • Operation and maintenance plan
  • Dam repair, upgrade, or replacement
  • Environmental (e.g., fish and wildlife protection) and recreational considerations
  • Ongoing dam inspections and additional monitoring
  • Licensing fees

Department requirements are similar. To meet state requirements, the structure would need to be in compliance with Wis. Admin. Code Chapter NR 333 [PDF exit DNR] and Wis. Stats. Chapter 31. Depending on the project, this could potentially include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Plan approvals for dam repair, upgrade, or replacement
  • Sufficient hydraulic capacity for the structure, appropriate land use controls downstream, and stability analysis
  • Emergency action plan
  • Inspection operation and maintenance plan
  • Ongoing dam inspections
Last revised: Tuesday July 07 2015