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Dangerous Dams Policy for Canterbury

September 28, 2006

Dangerous Dams Policy for Canterbury

Environment Canterbury has adopted a “Dangerous Dams Policy” for the Canterbury region, as required under Section 161 of the Building Act 2004. The Act requires regional councils to develop a policy to address issues associated with dangerous dams. It gives regional councils the power to act in the interest of public safety if a dam falls below the minimum safety criteria.

But Ashburton regional councillor Angus McKay, who chaired the Dangerous Dams Hearing Panel, says he’s concerned that the hearing panel was asked to consider submissions on a dangerous dams policy to be adopted before the Building Act deadline of September 30, 2006. “We certainly hope that Government will see to it that a definition of what constitutes a dangerous dam is in place before this policy becomes operative,” says Cr McKay. He points out that the policy will become operative three months after the date on which the Department of Building and Housing Regulations for the Dam Safety Scheme takes effect.

ECan’s policy, approved by Council today, outlines the actions the council can take to ensure the safety of a dam. It favours a consultative approach with the owners of any dam that is considered to be dangerous. However the legislation, and in turn the policy, do provide a number of tools that ECan may use if the necessary action does not occur. "Like serving the owners or relevant parties with work orders, or if necessary even carrying out the work ourselves, in order to ensure a dam does not pose a danger to lives and properties,” says Andrew Willis, ECan senior policy analyst.

He points out that Canterbury is home to an increasing number of large and small dams, used mostly for power generation and water storage and they represent various levels of design sophistication.

“Many of the region’s dams are constructed on watercourses and are therefore subject to flooding. It’s also clear from historical records and regional geological studies that although Canterbury is a region with historically a low number of earthquakes, it is still an area capable of generating large earthquakes. Dams must therefore be constructed and maintained to take account of a potentially significant earthquake,” he says.

Environment Canterbury will compile a list of dams requiring a safety assessment over time and if a dam is deemed to be dangerous it will be noted on ECan’s dams’ data base. “In response to submissions we received, the policy states that we (Environment Canterbury) will bear the cost of initial investigations to determine whether a dam is dangerous or not. If the dam is found to be dangerous, then the cost of the investigations will be recovered from the dam owner,” says Andrew Willis.

Twelve submissions on the policy were received by Environment Canterbury from a range of stakeholders including farmers, energy companies, district councils, the Department of Conservation, the Historic Places Trust and an irrigation company.


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