When the dam on Lake Anasagunticook was built, American and British troops were still skirmishing inside the territory that wouldn’t become known as Maine until six years later.

That was 1814. Judging by recent pictures of the rusty, dilapidated dam, little about it seems to have improved. It’s hanging open like a mouthful of busted yellow teeth, causing water levels to plummet and potentially threatening the drinking water for residents of Canton and Hartford.

Its owner, Roland Fortier, has designs of turning the dam into a hydroelectric facility, and a pile of junky-looking parts to prove it. Environmental regulators and emergency management officials take a dimmer view, and simply want the dam refurbished, not ambitiously resurrected.

Yet they won’t enforce sanctions on Fortier, who has barely budged on mandated work. The local water district is bracing for cost increases. Waterfront owners are clamoring for abatements. And have we mentioned the drinking water problem, or deleterious impacts on wildlife?

There’s a leadership vacuum here, which is there for the town of Canton to fill. The town cannot stand idle and let the dam, the water supply and the waterfront tax base simply wash away.

It’s a shame when government must fix somebody else’s mistakes. But it seems Canton will only be dammed if the town acts, or be damned if it does not.