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Strengthening The Safety And Resilience Of Aotearoa’s Large Dams

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has announced that Cabinet has approved policy decisions for the development of new safety regulations for dams to protect people, property and the environment from potential dam failures.

“Dams are an essential part of our infrastructure – for water supply, power generation, irrigation, mining and storm water management. Cabinet’s decision today recognises the importance of ensuring this part of our infrastructure remains robust, safe and well cared for,” says Amy Moorhead, MBIE’s Building Policy Manager.

The Building Act regulates the construction of a dam structure and a building consent is required for all large dams but, Amy Moorhead says, “until now there have been no regulatory requirements to ensure that dams are well maintained and regularly inspected after they have been built.

“The policy decisions agreed to pave the way for new regulations that will provide an approach to dam safety that will protect New Zealand from the potentially catastrophic impacts dam failures can have on communities, cultural sites, critical infrastructure and the natural environment,” said Amy Moorhead.

New regulations will impose new height and volume thresholds for dams that will be subject to the new requirements, and put in place a system for evaluating a dam’s potential impact of failure on people, property and the environment. Low risk structures such as stock drinking ponds, weirs and small, low dams will be exempt from the regulations.

Details of the regulations are expected to be approved later in 2021 and there will be a two year implementation period to ensure the owners of dams have plenty of time to prepare for their new obligations.

The regulations will be based on internationally reviewed guidelines written by the New Zealand Society on Large Dams, which have been refined following public consultation in 2019 and input from a technical working group.

“These new steps to improve the maintenance and monitoring of existing dams would not have been possible without the time, effort and expertise of the Dam Safety technical working group, comprising key sector representatives,” said Amy Moorhead.

“The Government’s approval to develop regulations makes it clear that undertaking maintenance and remedial work in order to manage the potential impact of a dam failure is a necessary part of responsible dam ownership,” Amy Moorhead said.

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