For the last 40 years, dam safety in NSW has been administered under the Dams Safety Act 1978. In the absence of regulations, the Dams Safety Committee (DSC) administered the Act by publishing guidance material for dam owners. In the event of issues, there were limited penalty provisions.
The updated Dams Safety Act 2015 includes a regulation for dam owners to follow and significant penalties for non-compliance. An Interim Dams Safety Advisory Committee was established to identify criteria for declaring dams, and to develop dams safety policy and standards.
On November 1 2019, the new regulatory body Dams Safety NSW was created, and the 2015 Dams Safety Act and Dams Safety Regulation 2019 commenced.
Frequently asked questions
A set of Frequently Asked Questions was developed during the public consultation of the Dams Safety Regulation 2019 as a means to answer key questions posed by community and industry stakeholders.
Changes under the new legislation
The new Act, regulation, and the standards:
- establish a new regulator, Dams Safety NSW, which comprises independent governing members
- provides declared dam owners with a clear set of minimum requirements
- allows the regulator to audit and enforce these standards
- significantly increases the penalties for non-compliance up to $1.1 million for corporations and $250,000 for individuals.
Goals and principles behind the changes
The goals of the changes are to:
- improve the safety management practices of declared dam owners
- improve the regulator’s ability to enforce the requirements
- remove the potential conflict of interest resulting from dam owners being on the board of the Dams Safety Committee.
The key principles guiding the new regulation and standards are that:
- the responsibility of declared dam owners for dam safety is reinforced
- regulation is principle-based to the greatest extent possible
- declared dam owners must implement a safety management system based on an internationally recognised asset management system
- declared dam owners must make safety risk decisions about their dams
- declared dam owners must mitigate dam safety risks ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’
- Dams Safety NSW takes a regulatory oversight role by auditing declared dam owners’ systems to determine if the regulation and standards are being complied with. The agency will enforce the regulation and standards through a proportionate response to non-compliance backed by a range of new penalties.
What this means for owners of declared dams
- Dams Safety NSW will be active in auditing compliance with regulatory requirements, including field-auditing of operations and maintenance activity.
- Owners of declared dams need to implement a safety management system based on internationally recognised asset management system requirements.
- Declared dam owners will have flexibility to explore a broad range of options to deliver the required level of public safety.
- Penalties have been increased significantly from those in the previous Dams Safety Act 1978, and are relative to the potential consequences of dam failure.
Implementation and Transition
Declared dam owners have a two-year transition period to implement new regulatory requirements. However, those dam owners who do not have operations and maintenance plans, or emergency plans, for their declared dams have six months from the commencement of the regulation (November 1 2019) to establish these.
During the two-year transition period, Dams Safety NSW will conduct site visits/transitioning audits, and inform declared dam owners of what they need to do to comply with the 2015 Act and regulation, and track the progress of implementation.