Dam safety legislation amendments

Changes to a number of dam safety provisions within the Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Act 2008 commenced on 1 July 2017.

Summary of changes

The changes apply to water storage dams located across Queensland that are known to pose a risk to people, including locally-owned and state-owned facilities.

Some of these amendments have been made in response to the Inspector-General Emergency Management's Review of Seqwater and SunWater Warnings Communications (PDF, 6.2MB), which recommended changes to the dam safety framework.

Key amendments

The key amendments include the following:

  • improving the effectiveness of emergency action plans
  • better integrating the dam safety and disaster management frameworks
  • enabling dam owners to erect warning signs on public land
  • simplifying the process for determining whether certain dams are referable
  • removing regulatory overlap with other legislation
  • facilitating better management of full supply levels of referable dams
  • streamlined process for declaring a temporary full supply level.

Emergency action plans

As the owner of a referable dam (i.e. a water dam that poses a risk to 2 or more persons if it were to fail) you must have an approved emergency action plan in place.

The amendments clarify that the purpose of emergency action plans is to minimise the risk of harm to persons or property in the event of water being released from the dam, or the dam failing.

Key terms, including dam hazard, dam hazard event and emergency event have been introduced or redefined to align with disaster management terminology and allow for differentiation between lower consequence events and emergency events.

Dam safety and disaster management framework

The process for preparing emergency action plans to integrate with Queensland's disaster management framework has changed.

Before an emergency action plan is submitted to us for approval, it must first be submitted to each affected local government (instead of the local disaster management group) and each district disaster management group.

These entities will consider whether the emergency action plan is consistent with their disaster management plans. Each local government will provide the dam owner with a written notice identifying any aspects of the draft emergency action plan that are inconsistent with their local disaster management plan. The chairperson of each district disaster management group may also provide the dam owner with a similar notice regarding any inconsistency with the district group's disaster management plan. The dam owner has the opportunity to respond in writing to these notices.

The approval of emergency action plans continues to be our responsibility. When considering a submitted emergency action plan, we must also have regard to:

Warning signs on public land

Dam and weir owners are able to erect a sign on public land to warn the public of the risks associated with entering an area immediately downstream of a dam or a weir.

Process for identifying referable dams

The process for determining whether an existing dam, which does not exceed the prescribed size criteria in the Act, is referable (i.e. poses a risk to public safety) has been simplified.

The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy has identified some dams across Queensland that may pose a risk to public safety, but which are below the size criteria triggers in the Act for automatic assessment.

A dam owner can accept our assessment that the dam is referable, without having to go to the expense of carrying out a failure impact assessment.

However, dam owners do not have to accept our assessment. They still have the option of engaging a registered engineer to undertake their own assessment.

Reducing regulatory overlap

Regulatory overlap of referable dams with other legislation has been reduced, by amending the definition of population at risk.

Population at risk (i.e. persons whose safety is at risk if failure of the dam was to occur) no longer includes:

  • residents on the same parcel of land on which the dam is situated
  • persons at a workplace, if the dam is situated at that workplace (under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011)
  • persons at a mine or coal mine, if the dam is situated at a mine or coal mine (under the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 or the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999).

The population at risk for a particular dam is determined by undertaking a failure impact assessment in accordance with the Guideline for failure impact assessment of water dams (PDF, 2.2MB).

Better management of full supply levels

Referable dam owners can temporarily reduce the full supply level of their dam to better manage risks. If conditions develop which cause the dam owner to have an engineering concern about the integrity of their dam, the dam owner can more readily reduce the risk of failure by temporarily reducing its full supply level.

Process for declaring a temporary full supply level

The Minister for Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy has the power to declare a temporary full supply level for the Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams to mitigate the potential impacts of flood and drought. These amendments simplify the process that the Minister must undertake to declare a temporary full supply level for these dams. However, the criteria that the Minister must have regard to remain unchanged.

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