Contraventions of the province’s dam safety regulation now face administrative penalties of up to $500,000 following a provincial order in council issued January 12.
The heftiest of the new fines applies to dam owners who fail to take appropriate action on becoming aware of hazardous conditions at their dams.
Hazardous conditions are defined as “defects or insufficiencies of the dam that (a) are or are likely to be hazardous to the dam, or (b) may reasonably be anticipated to cause all or part of the dam, or any operation or action at or in connection with the dam, to be or become potentially hazardous to (i) public safety, (ii) the environment, or (iii) land or other property.”
The top action is implementation of the emergency plan, required for dams classified as posing a significant, high, very high or extreme risk.
The lack of an emergency plan is itself a violation liable to a fine of up to $100,000, as is the failure to maintain the dam in good working condition such that it doesn’t pose a risk.
The new fines bridge the gap between tickets for minor offences that carried fines of up to $230 and prosecution. The province says it now has “more tools to encourage compliance” with the dam safety regulation.
Approximately 60% of all dams in BC are agricultural dams owned by cattle producers, and the BC Cattlemen’s Association has long felt ranchers deserve more support in maintaining their dams in view of the significant public benefits associated with them.
Regular audits for high-risk dams, for instance, can run in the tens of thousands of dollars.
BC’s auditor general reported in 2021 that the province wasn’t ensuring dam owner compliance with dam safety rules. However, the report recommended greater enforcement rather than financial support to dam owners.
The new penalties are the result.
BC Cattlemen’s was not immediately able to comment on the increased fines.