Proactive dam license planning: Use and occupancy policy on project lands and waters

Posted in: Energy, Water

It is important for dam licensees to consider non-project uses of their project lands and waters before a problem arises. Encroachments on licensee-controlled lands and waters may impact the operation of the facility. Shoreline inventories of non-project uses create a baseline of information from which a use and occupancy policy is created. This baseline information is critical to laying a good foundation for long-term management of non-project uses.   

Dam licensees may grant permission for only certain types of use and occupancy of licensee-controlled project lands and waters. It is important to note that most of the time this does not apply to other project lands where licensees only have flowage rights. 

Any approved use and occupancy must be supervised and controlled by the licensee. Further, the licensee is responsible for ensuring that any permitted use is maintained in good repair and complies with applicable local and state requirements. This is because the licensee is also required to protect and enhance the project’s scenic, recreational and other environmental values. In the end, these requirements act to benefit both the licensee and permittee.

What uses may dam licensees grant?

Licensees have the authority to grant permission for the following without FERC approval:

  • Landscape plantings
  • Non-commercial piers, landings, boat docks or similar structures that can accommodate no more than 10 watercraft
  • Embankments, bulkheads, retaining walls or similar structures used to protect the shoreline
  • Food plots and other wildlife enhancement.

At the heart of developing a proactive policy for conveying certain interests and monitoring their status over time is knowing what’s out there and where it’s located. Necessary parcel research to determine shoreline ownership can then be focused in those areas. 

It’s recommended that licensees engage a consultant with extensive experience in inventorying and mapping non-project uses of licensee-owned project lands, both upland shoreline and reservoir bed. Among other tools, combining desktop geographic information system tools and shoreline survey to catalog and collect data on existing facilities and structures can be extremely useful. Pictures, parcel ID, description of the type of use, and map location are collected for each non-project use. From this basis, potential encroachments on project lands can be identified and managed, leading to a grounded and sustainable use and occupancy policy. 

Inventories of non-project uses form the basis for development of a use and occupancy policy and monitoring system. This information enables licensees to research and verify any encroachments on project lands using a focused approach.

Proactive planning of non-project uses is good management and beneficial for all users of project lands and waters.


Brauna Hartzell, GISP, has more than 25 years of experience in applying Geographic Information Systems technology to water resources projects of all types. This invaluable expertise assists clients to explore new ways to look at data and information analysis to support the decision-making process.

Other blog articles by Brauna include:

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