Roles and responsibilities

Last updated: 13 May 2022

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.

Dam owners

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.

It is the owner of a dam, rather than the operator of the dam or the owner of the land on which the dam is located, who is primarily responsible for safe management of the dam and needs to fulfil the dam safety regulatory requirements.

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 either of the 2 height and volume thresholds to be considered a classifiable dam. MBIE has provided a resource to help dam owners measure their dams.

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, require more action. 

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]

Dam owners are required to classify and register their dam within 3 months of the regulations commencing on 13 May 2024 or, if the dam is being built during that time or later, within 3 months of the dam being commissioned.

Bringing dams into compliance and maintaining acceptable levels of safety may come at a monetary cost for some dam owners. However, the benefits of protecting people, property, and the environment from the potential impacts of a dam breach far outweigh the costs of compliance.

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

Regional authorities must be accredited and registered as building consent authorities to carry out dam-related responsibilities.

The Building Act 2004 requires regional authorities to:

  • administer and monitor the regulations, this involves:
    • establishing and maintaining a register of dams in its district
    • considering and approving or refusing dam classifications (based on whether they have been certified by a recognised engineer as defined in the regulations)
    • approving or refusing dam safety assurance programmes
    • 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 classifiable 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. Several regional authorities have chosen to do this when it comes to the compliance monitoring and enforcement of dams related legislation.

Technical practitioner

In many cases, a dam owner may seek support from an experienced dam safety practitioner to comply with the Building Act and the regulations. The technical practitioner may also be registered as a recognised engineer and/or may have a recognised engineer within or outside their organisation who can certify that the work they have done meets the Building Act and regulations requirements.

In a broad sense technical practitioners may have the knowledge and experience required to prepare PICs and/or prepare and audit 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.

Recognised engineers

There are 2 types of recognised engineer – a PIC recognised engineer and a 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.

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

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: