A new audit report — Oversight of Dam Safety in British Columbia — released by the Office of the Auditor General has concluded that the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development has not effectively overseen the safety of dams.
The report covers the ministry’s oversight of the safety of 1,900 regulated dams. Dams that are being built, such as Site C, were not included in the audit.
“The ministry had several significant shortcomings in its oversight of dam safety,” said Michael Pickup, Auditor General. “Notably, we found that the ministry did not adequately verify or enforce dam owners’ compliance with key regulatory safety requirements. While owners are ultimately responsible for the safety of their dams, part of the ministry’s mandate is to oversee their compliance.”
The audit also found that the ministry had gaps in its records, which resulted in it being unaware of some dams that should have been subject to its oversight.
The report contains nine recommendations related to informing all dam owners of their regulatory requirements, improving processes to verify compliance, improving the monitoring of compliance and enforcement activities, and strengthening performance measures and targets.
The ministry has accepted all recommendations.
The ministry regulates dam safety under the Water Sustainability Act and the Dam Safety Regulation. The regulation aims to mitigate loss of life and damage to property and the environment from a dam failure.
The ministry checks that dam owners follow the regulatory requirements and enforces the requirements through the dam safety program and Compliance and Enforcement Branch.
Audit at a glance: https://www.bcauditor.com/
B.C. Green Party Leader, Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley, said in a statement:
“Yet again, we have an Auditor General’s report that emphasizes the provincial government’s failure to oversee and regulate industrial activity in B.C. This is another example of the BC NDP lacking the political will to prioritize the health and safety of people, properties, and the environment.
“The alarming conclusions of this report state that B.C. has failed at compliance, enforcement, and oversight. Despite a history of structural and operational dam failures, government continues to be careless with 1,900 dams across the province. For more than half of these dams, failure could be fatal.
“The people of B.C. rely on their governments to protect the public safety and the public interest. The Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development is failing to do so. I am especially concerned that this report did not consider the safety of dams under construction, dams related to mining, or dams owned by oil and gas permit holders. That means that the safety of mega projects such as Site C, or dams similar to Mt. Polley was not assessed.
“It is clear that we need an urgent culture change and overhaul of this ministry. More resources need to be devoted to ensuring the safety of dam infrastructure across the province. The provincial government should also be recognizing the role of First Nations in land use planning, and working with them to chart a path forward that focuses on Indigenous-led restoration.”