Roles and responsibilities

Last updated: 28 March 2024

Dam roles and responsibilities

The key groups impacted by the regulations are dam owners, technical practitioners, including Recognised Engineers, and regional authorities. This is because the regulations require these groups to carry out certain actions.

Update to classifiable dam thresholds

The Government has responded to feedback from farmers that the cost of compliance with the new regulations is not proportionate to the risks smaller dams pose. As a result, changes have been made to the thresholds, meaning that fewer smaller dams will now be impacted by the regulations.

It is important that specialist engineering resources are focussed on dams that represent the greatest risk to people and property downstream, and that owners of classifiable dams can efficiently meet their obligations under the regulations.

The new threshold requirement for dams impacted by the regulations is a height of 4 or more metres and stores 20,000 or more cubic metres volume of water, or other fluid.

The new regulations will no longer apply to dams that are less than four meters high. This aligns better with the building consent threshold, that is, if a dam owner doesn’t need a consent to build the dam, then it won’t need to be classified after construction.

Dam owners

Dam ownership

Dams are owned by a variety of different people or groups eg farmers with an irrigation dam for crops or livestock, regional authorities who own a dam to provide safe drinking water for the community, or energy companies with a hydro-electric dam to produce electricity.

Under the Building Act 2004 and the Building (Dam Safety) Regulations 2022 (the regulations), the dam owner is the person who legally owns the physical dam itself.

It is the owner of the dam who is legally responsible for the safe management of the dam. The owner is also responsible for ensuring the requirements of the regulations are met.

There are a variety of different scenarios when it comes to dam ownership. Usually, it is the main party who derives benefit, and it should be apparent who the owner(s) of a dam is. Often the landowner will be the dam owner. If the landowner is not the dam owner, there may be a record of who the dam owner is on the property title, or property file documents held by the council (for example, resource or building consent).

Dams impacted by the regulations

Dam owners will need to understand whether their water retention structure is a dam (using the Building Act 2004 definition) and if it is, they will need to determine whether it meets or exceeds the height and volume thresholds to be considered a classifiable dam.

If a dam is 4 or more metres in height and stores 20,000 or more cubic metres volume of water, or other fluid, it is a classifiable dam.

MBIE has provided a resource to help dam owners calculate the height and volume of their dam(s) [PDF 2.9MB].

If a dam is classifiable, then the owner has certain responsibilities under the Building Act and regulations. Responsibilities vary depending on the potential impact of a dam's failure. Dams classified as low potential impact require no further action when it comes to the regulations, other than to review the classification every 5 years. Dams classified as medium or high, are required to have a dam safety assurance programme (DSAP)

Find out more about classifying dams under the complying with the regulations section.

Potential Impact Classifications (PICs)

Dam owners are required to classify and register their dam within 3 months of the regulations commencing on 13 May 2024 (that is, by 13 August 2024).

In the case of a dam being commissioned after 13 May 2024, then it must be classified within 3 months of the dam being commissioned.

PIC assessments do not need to be completed by, or under the supervision of, a Recognised Engineer. The regulations allow for anyone to carry out PIC assessments, not just Recognised Engineers. The role of the Recognised Engineer is specifically to audit and certify PIC assessments.

The Building Act allows an owner to complete the PIC assessment themselves, although in practice this work is likely to be completed by a technical practitioner, based on already existing information. For example, information in existing building consent documents, site measurements supplied by the dam owner, or downstream features identified from a desktop assessment.

For more complex dams, or for people who don’t have the ability to complete the classification themselves, a technical practitioner may assist the dam owner. Alternatively, the technical practitioner may complete the PIC assessment. The dam owner will then need to engage a Recognised Engineer to audit and certify the PIC.

Recognised Engineers working in a team

In many cases, a team of engineers will complete work under the supervision of a Recognised Engineer to carry out PIC assessments.

In many companies with a dam safety engineering practice, five, ten, or more engineers may undertake PIC and/or dam safety assurance programme (DSAP) work under the supervision of, and certification by, a single Recognised Engineer.

Find out more about classifying dams under the complying with the regulations section.

Read more detailed information about classifying dams in the Dam Safety Guidance [PDF 5MB]

Engaging a technical practitioner or Recognised Engineer

Technical practitioner

If a dam owner needs support to comply with the regulations, they may choose to talk to a technical practitioner who has experience with dam safety.

When engaging a technical practitioner, dam owners should prepare a brief for the engineering work they want done. This should outline the scope of work and will help the technical practitioner provide an accurate estimate of time and cost. The brief should include:

  • a description of the problem
  • the scope of work to be carried out
  • specific things not to be done or included
  • a deadline for completion
  • items to be produced, such as drawings, reports, or calculations
  • documentation needed for applications to regional authorities.

Once the dam owner and technical practitioner are happy with the brief, the dam owner should formalise this agreement in a legally binding contract.

Find out about engaging an engineer – (Engineering New Zealand Te Ao Rangahau).

Recognised Engineers

The role of a Recognised Engineer is to audit and certify a PIC, DSAP, and annual dam compliance certificate (the last two are only required if a dam is classified as medium or high).

Find a Recognised Engineer – (Engineering New Zealand Te Ao Rangahau).

Dangerous dams

If a dam owner has reasonable grounds for believing that their dam is, or has become dangerous, then they must immediately notify the relevant regional authority. If the dam is an earthquake-prone dam or a flood-prone dam, then the dam owner has a responsibility under the Building Act to review their dam's DSAP when requested by the regional authority to do so.

If a member of the public has concerns about a dam, they should contact the dam owner or raise their concerns with their regional authority.

Regional authorities

Where a regional authority is also a building consent authority, they can provide building consent processing and inspection services for classifiable dams, such as compliance monitoring and enforcement of the Building Code and regulations.

However, the Building Act 2004 requires all regional authorities, whether a building consent authority or not, to:

  • administer and monitor the dam safety regulations. This involves:
    • establishing and maintaining a register of dams in its district
    • approving or refusing dam classifications (based on whether they have been certified by a Recognised Engineer as defined in the Building Act)
    • approving or refusing dam safety assurance programmes (DSAPs) based on whether they have been certified by a Recognised Engineer as defined in the Building Act
    • receiving the annual dam safety assurance programme compliance certificates.
  • adopt and implement a policy on dangerous dams, flood-prone dams, and earthquake-prone dams
  • take action, if necessary, if any dam, large or small, poses an immediate danger to the safety of persons, property, or the environment
  • provide building consent processing and inspection services for large dams, such as issuing project information memoranda (PIMs), building consent processing, compliance monitoring and enforcement of the Building Code and regulations.

Transfer of functions, duties, and powers of a regional authority

A regional authority may transfer 1 or more of its functions, duties, or powers under the Building Act to another regional authority. Some regional authorities have transferred the consenting and inspection services for classifiable dams to a regional authority that is a building consent authority.

Technical practitioner

In many cases, a dam owner may seek support from an experienced technical practitioner to comply with the Building Act and the regulations. The technical practitioner may also be registered as a Recognised Engineer which means they can certify the work they have carried out. If not, a Recognised Engineer within or outside their organisation will need to certify that the work they have done meets the Building Act and the regulations.

In a broad sense, technical practitioners may have the knowledge and experience required to prepare Potential Impact Classifications (PICs) and/or prepare and audit Dam Safety Assurance Programmes (DSAPs), but if they have not been assessed by Engineering New Zealand Te Ao Rangahau and registered as a Recognised Engineer, they are not able to certify PICs or DSAPs.

PICs and DSAPs must meet the requirements of the regulations, which set the minimum standards for dam safety. It is not a requirement to meet the standards of the New Zealand Dam Safety Guidelines which outline 'recommended practice' rather than the minimum standards.

Recognised Engineers

There are 2 types of Recognised Engineers – a Potential Impact Classification (PIC) Recognised Engineer and a Dam Safety Assurance Programme (DSAP) Recognised Engineer. A Recognised Engineer can be either, or both, depending on their competencies as assessed and registered by Engineering New Zealand Te Ao Rangahau.

PICs and DSAPs can be prepared by anyone, whether it be the dam owner themselves, a farm consultant, or a technical practitioner. However, the Recognised Engineer's key role in the dam safety regulatory framework is to certify PICs and DSAPs before they are submitted to a regional authority for approval. Also, only a Recognised Engineer can certify that all procedures in the DSAP have been complied with during the previous 12 months (except for the minor items of non-compliance).

All Recognised Engineers must be Chartered Professional Engineers who are subject to a code of ethical conduct. They must, in the course of their engineering activities, take reasonable steps to safeguard the health and safety of people and report adverse consequences. If, during the Recognised Engineer’s completion of PIC certification or DSAP certification or audit they become aware that a dam may be dangerous, then they have an ethical obligation as well as a legal obligation to inform the dam owner and the relevant regional authority.

The regulations specify the qualifications and competencies that Recognised Engineers are required to hold for each of the PIC and DSAP regulatory roles the Recognised Engineer must fulfil.

PICs and DSAPs must meet the requirements of the regulations, which set the minimum standards for dam safety. It is not a requirement to meet the standards of the New Zealand Dam Safety Guidelines which outline 'recommended practice' rather than the minimum standards.

Apply to be assessed and registered as a Recognised Engineer

The effective implementation of these new regulations is important for affected communities, regional authorities, and dam owners.

MBIE encourages engineers to consider whether they may meet the requirements for becoming a Recognised Engineer (PIC), and if so to consider applying for assessment and registration with Engineering New Zealand Te Ao Rangahau as a Recognised Engineer (PIC).

Find out more about the qualifications and competencies in the Dam Safety Guidance [PDF 5MB]

Find out more about Recognised Engineers, including searching for a Recognised Engineer –

This information is published by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Chief Executive. It is a general guide only and, if used, does not relieve any person of the obligation to consider any matter to which the information relates according to the circumstances of the particular case. Expert advice may be required in specific circumstances. Where this information relates to assisting people: