BC‚Äôs auditor general says the province is not doing its job when it comes to ensuring the safety of dams in BC, raising the risk of failures such as the 2010 collapse of the Testalinden Dam south of Oliver that swept away vineyards and farm equipment.
‚ÄúOur audit concluded that the ministry has not effectively overseen the safety of dams in BC,‚ÄĚ auditor general Michael Pickup told a September 14 news conference. ‚ÄúDams are dangerous, and it is crucial that they be properly maintained to minimize their risk of failing. Failures can be disastrous for people, the environment and property.‚ÄĚ
A report Pickup‚Äôs office released this week sought to determine if the BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNORD) has effectively overseen the safety of the 1,900 dams in BC. While it found the province promoted dam owner compliance, the province ‚Äúdid not adequately verify or enforce compliance‚ÄĚ as required under the Water Sustainability Act.
‚ÄúThey are not doing what they set out to do in terms of compliance,‚ÄĚ says Pickup.
While dam owners are responsible for dam safety, government provides oversight in order to mitigate the risk to people, property and the environment, Pickup explains.
Of the 1,900 dams across the province, 1,000 are designated ‚Äúhigh risk,‚ÄĚ meaning a failure could kill people and damage the environment and property. The impact of failures at the other 900 dams is lower, only damaging the owner‚Äôs property.
However, the report noted that the downstream risk from low-consequence dams is not re-evaluated on a regular basis. Moreover, at least 196 dams are missing from FLNORD records. The province has no means to identify unauthorized dams.
Complicating dam oversight are competing priorities in regional offices and a shortage of staff that led to significant backlogs on existing dam safety officers.
The report makes nine recommendations for improving the province‚Äôs oversight of dam safety, including informing all dam owners of their regulatory obligations, improving processes to verify dam owner compliance, improving monitoring of compliance and enforcement activities and strengthening performance measures and targets
The province accepted all nine of the auditor‚Äôs recommendations, however it remains to be seen what action will be taken.
‚ÄúOur recommendations are not prescriptive,‚ÄĚ says Pickup. ‚ÄúIt is the government‚Äôs job to create detailed policy. They need to figure out, given what we have found, how they want to monitor compliance and enforcement.‚ÄĚ