The British Columbia government has failed to effectively monitor the safety of the 1,900 dams it regulates, says the auditor general.
Michael Pickup said the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has not properly verified or enforced the dam owners’ compliance with key safety requirements.
“So I’m trying to balance by making sure people are clear that we are not suggesting, you know, that dams are unsafe,” Pickup said at a news conference Tuesday.
“But at the same time we are suggesting and indicating that by concluding that they are not executing their program effectively and doing what they said they would do, the risk has increased relative to dam safety and public safety.”
The report says ministry officials found that new owners were sometimes unaware that their property had a dam for a year or more after becoming owners when they received a bill for the water license. The dams are not on the title deed and the smaller dams can look like a natural body of water, he added.
While dam owners are responsible for their safety, the ministry is mandated to make sure they comply with provincial regulations, he said.
“Although the ministry makes the information available to all dam owners and reaches out to higher consequence dam owners, officials often find that dam owners, especially low consequence dam owners, do not fully understand their regulatory responsibilities, “the report said. released Tuesday.
“One reason for this lack of understanding is that safety training is voluntary. Anyone can own a dam if they buy land with a dam.”
The audit period was from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020 and did not include dams being built, such as Site C, a megaproject that crosses the Peace River, west of Fort St. John.
Dams that retain water offer significant benefits, such as electricity, irrigation, flood control, wildlife habitat and recreation, the report said. But dams must be properly maintained to minimize the risk of failure, he added.
Faults can be caused by a single catastrophic event, such as an earthquake, or, more often, by a number of factors or events, he said.
BC does not effectively monitor #dams security: auditor general #BCPoli
For about 1,000 of the 1,900 dams, he said a failure could kill people and damage the environment and property. The rest of the dams could end up damaging the owner’s property, according to the report.
Since the early 1900s, there have been two deaths in BC from structural dam failures, one in 1912 and the other in 1948, he noted.
The auditor general also found that the ministry did not have a complete inventory of dams and that the information on which it regulates was not always complete or accurate because the database was introduced in 2010 and has been expanded to include more material.
But ministry officials have not prioritized updating the database records as part of their already heavy workloads, according to the report. They also feel that the database does not meet their workflow needs and is inefficient to use, he said.
Four in 10 officers said there was a delay in the average time between submission of reports and acceptance by the ministry, which was about 20 months, although some had taken eight years.
“The delay was the result of the workload of the officers,” he said.
“Officers told us that their schedules rarely allowed for the uninterrupted time they needed to review these complex technical reports.”
The auditor general made nine recommendations, including improving the processes to verify compliance, all of which have been accepted by the ministry. Pickup said the government’s response did not include details in terms of actions and a timeline, but agreed with all the recommendations.
– By Hina Alam in Vancouver.
This Canadian Press report was first published on September 14, 2021.