BC does not effectively monitor dam safety: Auditor General

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VICTORIA – The British Columbia government has not effectively monitored the safety of the 1,900 dams it regulates, the Auditor General says.

VICTORIA – The British Columbia government has not effectively monitored the safety of the 1,900 dams it regulates, the Auditor General says.

Michael Pickup said the Department of Forests, Land, Natural Resource Operation and Rural Development had not adequately verified or enforced dam owners’ compliance with key safety requirements.

“So I’m trying to find a balance to make sure people understand that we’re not suggesting dams are unsafe,” Pickup said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“But at the same time we are suggesting and pointing out that the risk to dam safety and public safety has increased by concluding that they are not effectively carrying out their program and doing what they have promised to do. ”

According to the report, ministry officials found that sometimes new landowners were unaware that their property had a dam for a year or more after they became owners when they were billed for the water license. Dams aren’t on the land title, and smaller dams can look like a natural body of water, he added.

While the dam owners are responsible for their safety, the ministry is responsible for ensuring that provincial regulations are followed.

“Although the ministry is providing information to all dam owners and reaching out to owners of dams with higher impacts, officials often find that dam owners – especially owners of dams with lesser impacts – do not fully understand their regulatory obligations,” it said Report published Tuesday.

“One reason for this lack of understanding is that the safety training is voluntary. Anyone can own a dam if they buy land with a dam.”

The review period ran from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020 and did not include any dams under construction such as Site C, a mega-project that crosses the Peace River west of Fort St. John.

Dams that withhold water offer significant benefits such as electricity, irrigation, flood control, wildlife habitat and recreation, the report said. But dams need to be properly maintained to minimize the risk of failure, he added.

Outages can be caused by a single catastrophic event like an earthquake or, more commonly, a number of factors or events, it said.

For around 1,000 of the 1,900 dams, failure could kill people and damage the environment and property. The rest of the dams could damage the owner’s property, the report said.

Since the early 1900s, BC has recorded two deaths from structural dam breaches, one in 1912 and the other in 1948.

The Auditor General also noted that the Department does not have a complete inventory of dams and the information on the dams it regulates was not always complete or accurate as the database was launched and expanded with more material in 2010.

But department officials didn’t prioritize updating the database records as part of their already heavy workload, the report said. They also feel that the database is not meeting their workflow needs and is inefficient to use, it is said.

Four in ten officials said there was a lag in the average time between filing reports and departmental acceptance, which was about 20 months, although some had taken eight years.

“The backlog was a result of the officers’ workload,” it said.

“The officials told us that their schedules rarely provided for the uninterrupted amount of time it would take them to review these complex technical reports.”

The Auditor General made nine recommendations, including improving compliance review processes, all of which were accepted by the ministry. Pickup said the government’s response did not provide details of measures and a timetable, but agreed with all of the recommendations.

– From Hina Alam in Vancouver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 14, 2021.

The Canadian press


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