EWN Publications

Patterns, drivers, and a predictive model of dam removal cost in the United States

Jeffrey J. Duda, Suman Jumani, Daniel J. Wieferich, Desiree Tullos, S. Kyle McKay, Timothy J. Randle, Alvin Jansen, Susan Bailey, Benjamin L. Jensen, Rachelle C. Johnson, Ella Wagner, Kyla Richards, Seth J. Wenger, Eric J. Walther, and Jennifer A. Bountry
July 24, 2023

About This Publication

Given the burgeoning dam removal movement and the large number of dams approaching obsolescence in the United States, cost estimating data and tools are needed for dam removal prioritization, planning, and execution. We used the list of removed dams compiled by American Rivers to search for publicly available reported costs for dam removal projects. Total cost information could include component costs related to project planning, dam deconstruction, monitoring, and several categories of mitigation activities. We compiled reported costs from 455 unique sources for 668 dams removed in the United States from 1965 to 2020. The dam removals occurred within 571 unique projects involving 1–18 dams. When adjusted for inflation into 2020 USD, cost of these projects totaled $1.522 billion, with per-dam costs ranging from $1 thousand (k) to $268.8 million (M). The median cost for dam removals was $157k, $823k, and $6.2M for dams that were< 5 m, between 5–10 m, and > 10 m in height, respectively. Geographic differences in total costs showed that northern states in general, and the Pacific Northwest in particular, spent the most on dam removal. The Midwest and the Northeast spent proportionally more on removal of dams less than 5 m in height, whereas the Northwest and Southwest spent the most on larger dam removals > 10 m tall. We used stochastic gradient boosting with quantile regression to model dam removal cost against potential predictor variables including dam characteristics (dam height and material), hydrography (average annual discharge and drainage area), project complexity (inferred from construction and sediment management, mitigation, and post-removal cost drivers), and geographic region. Dam height, annual average discharge at the dam site, and project complexity were the predominant drivers of removal cost. The final model had an R2 of 57% and when applied to a test dataset model predictions had a root mean squared error of $5.09M and a mean absolute error of $1.45M, indicating its potential utility to predict estimated costs of dam removal. We developed a R shiny application for estimating dam removal costs using customized model inputs for exploratory analyses and potential dam removal planning.