16 Aug 2010

Call for regulation on dam safety

6:50 am on 16 August 2010

Campaigners say tougher regulation is needed to ensure dangerous dams are shut down.

Unlike most other developed countries, New Zealand has no specific dam safety laws.

Regulation was due to come into force in July, but was put on hold by the Government after dam owners raised concerns about compliance costs.

An independent safety review, commissioned by the Government, was subsequently carried out and concluded some dams are neglected and need to be decommissioned.

It found an urgent need for better monitoring, but recommended focusing on large dams to reduce red tape.

Clutha River Forum coordinator Lewis Verduyn says regulation is long overdue and should not be watered down.

He says thousands of people live and work in the hazard path of dams, and it is not fair that dam owners can avoid regulatory oversight.

The chairperson of the Wild Rivers campaign, Debs Martin from Forest and Bird, says it's not just people under threat, but sensitive habitats like estuaries.

She was living in South Canterbury when the Opuha dam collapsed in 1997 discharging 13 million cubic metres of water, causing millions of dollars of damage and killing about 1000 stock.

Ms Martin says decisions about dams are too critical to leave to cash-strapped regional councils and national oversight is needed.

The Department of Building and Housing says the proposed dam safety scheme is about planning to avoid a rare event.

Spokesperson Craig Hill says that, while there has not been any legal requirement for inspections, most large dam owners carry out comprehensive monitoring.