When thunder claps and the rain pours down, we all take cover. 

But, in some Massachusetts communities, residents and officials have one nerve-wracking thought: Will the dam hold?

7 Investigates found some dams could pose an immediate danger. 

As torrential rain floods out local neighborhoods, climate experts say the kinds of storms that produce such rain are becoming more common. 

“The rainstorms are now more intense,” said Christine Hatch, a climate sciences processor at UMass Amherst. “There’s more rain per hour. There’s more rain per storm.”

That means more stress on aging dams across the state. 

There are more than 1,300 dams in Massachusetts. 7 Investigates has learned 329 of those are classified as high risk, meaning they could cause significant damage to homes and businesses if they fail. Thirty-one dams are rated as poor or unsatisfactory by the state’s Office of Dam Safety, including the Hager Pond Dam in Marlboro. 

“It’s in disrepair,” said Marlboro Mayor Arthur Vigeant. 

Vigeant said the dam needs immediate attention.

“The dam has held up at this point, but we cross our fingers every time we get one of those storms,” Vigeant said.

If the Hager Pond Dam fails, it could damage homes and businesses in Sudbury.

One of those businesses is a historic grist mill. Recently, 7’s Dave Puglisi talked with owners of the Wayside Inn who own the mill. They said they are concerned that, if the Hager Pond Dam goes, their business would be destroyed.

“It would be terrible because a lot of people come here to take pictures and have memories here,” said Caio Connors of Framingham.

People in East Bridgewater recently felt the effects of what happens when a dam is breached.

Homes saw water rise up to their foundations after a wave of water overwhelmed the Stump Pond Dam.

Stan Cravits owns the dam. He says someone upstream released hundreds of gallons of water without warning him. The wave of water overpowered his dam. 

“It was coming in at such a fast rate, we couldn’t let it go fast enough,” Cravits said.

Cravits has already invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs.

“We are going to do another emergency spillway so, if that ever happens again, we will be prepared for it,” he said.

The Office of Dam Safety tells 7 Investigates that engineers inspect high risk dams every two years to look for potential hazards.

“It’s really prudent of us to go look at the structures now to see if we can improve the resiliency of some of those,” Hatch said.

Several state organizations have invested more than $75 million to repair, replace or destroy problem dams over the past nine years

Recently the 176-year-old Lake Boon Dam in Stow received $1 million for emergency repairs.

“I think the right decision is to do it right once and for all,” said Lake Boon Rehab Project Manager Bruce Fletcher. “Do a complete rehab and not ever have to worry about it again.”

So why hasn’t the Hager Pond Dam been repaired yet? 

That’s because no one knows who owns it. The mayor says there has been a lot of finger pointing at who is going to foot the bill.

They hope the cleanup that has been done around the dam will be enough to keep it intact for now.

(Copyright (c) 2023 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Join our Newsletter for the latest news right to your inbox