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Many of B.C.’s 1,900 dams not adequately regulated, auditor finds

Lands ministry hiring more dam safety staff to catch up
Mark Creek dam in the Kootenays is one of the “extreme consequence” dams identified in B.C. Auditor General Michael Pickup’s report on dam safety. (B.C. government photo)

B.C.’s largest hydroelectric and open-pit mine dams have been under close scrutiny in recent years, but the same can’t be said for hundreds of other dams around the province, B.C.’s auditor general says.

Auditor General Michael Pickup’s review of regulated dams used for power generation, irrigation and flood control found that more than 60 per cent of those sampled lacked key information such as emergency contact and height of the dam. Nearly 200 dams were missing from ministry records

There are 1,900 regulated dams in the province, some designated as high-risk, and 87 of those had “significant deficiencies” that were not repaired for an average of more than seven years after the problems were identified, according to Pickup’s report, released Sept. 14.

The audit did not include dams under construction, including B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam on the Peace River, or those associated with mines. Its focus is on the many smaller dams in the jurisdiction of the the forests and lands ministry.

In a statement to Black Press Media, the ministry said it is hiring five more dam safety staff to help take action on the auditor’s recommendations.

“While dam owners are responsible for ensuring the safety of their operations, we recognize there’s more government can be doing to assist with oversight, outreach, and education,” the ministry said.

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The audit makes nine recommendations, all of which have been accepted by the forests and lands ministry. They include reaching out to more dam owners to encourage safety training, rather than sending annual letters to owners of “high, very high and extreme consequence” dams. “Going forward, the ministry will explore options to expand this correspondence to include low and significant consequence” dam owners, the ministry said in its response to the audit.

Another recommendation is to review staffing for mine inspection. The audit found that four out of 10 dam safety officers had a backlog of reports on high-consequence dam safety to review. “Average time to accept safety reports was 20 months,” the audit states. “Some took eight years.”

Pickup also recommends a province-wide program to identify dams built without authorization.

“Dam failures do not normally cause fatalities, but they can cause other damage,” the audit says. “The ministry reported, on average, three structural dam failures each year over the past five years, most of them causing minimal damage; however, larger failures have occurred in the past. For example, in 2010 the Testalinden Dam failed, destroying or damaging five homes and causing significant damage to crops and farm equipment.The debris covered 200 metres of Highway 97 and blocked several secondary roads. The estimated cost of this dam failure was in the millions of dollars.”


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