Proposed dam safety rules ‘scary’

Hawkdun Idaburn Irrigation Company chairman Ken Gillespie hopes common sense will prevail when...
Hawkdun Idaburn Irrigation Company chairman Ken Gillespie hopes common sense will prevail when new dam safety regulations are introduced. PHOTO: SRL ARCHIVE
Proposed safety regulations for dams are "scary", Central Otago farmers’ Otago Water Resource Users Group (OWRUG) chairman Ken Gillespie says.

He said the new regulations, which are expected to be introduced later this year, would bring more stress and expense to farmers.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said Cabinet had approved policy decisions for the development of new safety regulations for dams last week.

Springvale sheep and deer farmer Gary Kelliher called for sensible and prudent management.

"I desperately hope this Government would be in some way sympathetic to the farmers’ need for storage and not regulate it beyond reality," Mr Kelliher said.

About 600 Central Otago families plus irrigation companies and all those who needed water storage would be affected by the regulations.

He said central Government’s track record with water had so far meant unrealistic regulations, and he wanted to see practical and sensible rules.

"As an former civil engineer I have done a lot of work on dams in previous roles and while I support some of the older structures need to have a maintenance and monitoring regime, I am not aware of any at risk at the moment.

"The newer ones have been built to very high standards and there are some exceptional contractors out there.

"The realistic thing would be to listen and help tailor regulations to workable standards and in the future those with old structures would need to look at how carry them forward."

A semi-retired Oturehua farmer, Mr Gillespie is also the Hawkdun Idaburn Irrigation Company chairman.

He said the proposed regulations would possibly mean additional expenses for irrigation companies and their member farmers on top of the many thousands of dollars OWRUG had spent on experts preparing submissions to the ORC’s plan change 7.

The Lower Manorburn Dam, near Alexandra, will be one of the dams affected by new dam safety...
The Lower Manorburn Dam, near Alexandra, will be one of the dams affected by new dam safety regulations to be introduced later this year.PHOTO: SRL ARCHIVES
In addition, they faced the changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater.

"Irrigation companies are not bottomless pits," Mr Gillespie said.

"I am an eternal optimist and common sense has got to prevail."

New Zealand Society on Large Dams (NZSOLD) chairman Trevor Matuschka was involved with discussions with the MBIE and the initial regulation drafting.

He said New Zealand was one of the few countries in the Western world that did not have dam safety rules.

However, while many recently built dams had to meet the recommendations for dam safety in the New Zealand Dam Safety Guidelines as a resource consent condition, for older dams there were no such requirements.

"When the new regulations come in there would be some compliance costs, firstly to assess the consequence category [low, medium or high]," Mr Matuschka said.

"For medium and high, a dam safety assurance programme would need to be developed, and compliance with the programme would need to be certified annually."

New rules

The regulations will apply to any dam that is a minimum of 4m in height and holding a minimum of 20,000 cubic metres of stored water; or a minimum of 1m in height and holding a minimum of 40,000 cubic metres of stored water.

Low-risk structures such as stock drinking ponds, weirs and small, low dams will be exempt from the regulations.

An MBIE spokesman said the new regulations would apply to dams which had the potential to have the greatest impact on people, property and the environment if they failed.

Since 1960 there have been 25 known dam incidents in New Zealand,  at least 14 being considered serious, but there have been no recorded fatalities. 

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