Strengthening the safety and resilience of Aotearoa's large dams

Posted: 2 March 2021

New safety regulations to protect people, property and the environment from potential dam failures are in development.

The regulations will outline a system for identifying what dams are included in the regime, classifying a dam's potential impact failure and prescribing the required contents of a Dam Safety Assurance Programme to promote regular monitoring and surveillance practices for the safe operation of dams.

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

The new regulations

The finer details of the regulations are currently in development, and will be based on the internationally reviewed guidelines written by the New Zealand Society on Large Dams (NZSOLD), and further informed by the feedback from MBIE's 2019 public consultation on dam safety.

The new regulations will apply to any dams that are:

  • 4 metres or higher with a volume of 20,000m3 (8 Olympic-sized swimming pools) or greater, or
  • 1 metre or higher with a volume of 40,000m3 (16 Olympic-sized swimming pools) or greater.

The regulations will exclude any low-risk structures such as stock drinking ponds, weirs, and small, low dams.

What happens next

Details of the regulations are expected to be approved by Cabinet later this year, then there will be a two-year lead in time before they come into force.

MBIE will provide guidance to help dam owners understand their obligations under the new regulations, and Engineering New Zealand will be assisting MBIE by putting a training and assessment programme in place to ensure there are enough suitably qualified engineers to provide the necessary support and advice.

Dams are an essential part of New Zealand's infrastructure – for water supply, power generation, irrigation, mining and storm water management. The new regulations will provide a nationally consistent approach that ensures people, property and the environment are protected from the potential impacts of dam failure.

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