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Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is the custodian of the Water Act and relevant regulations, directives and codes of practice. The safety of dams and canals is administered through the implementation of Part 6 of the Water (Ministerial) Regulation and the Alberta Dam and Canal Safety Directive. This ensures that dams and canals are designed, constructed, operated, maintained and decommissioned/closed in a safe manner using best available technologies and best applicable practices.
Purpose and components of the framework
The purpose of the dam and canal safety regulatory framework is to ensure safety of dams and canals in the province to prevent loss of life and to minimize potential environmental and economic losses in the event of a potential dam failure or emergency.
As of December 11, 2018, the regulatory framework in Alberta consists of the following components:
- Water Act
- Water (Ministerial) Regulation
- Water (Offences and Penalties) Regulation
- Alberta Dam and Canal Safety Directive
- Ministerial orders
An overview of the upgraded regulatory framework, including details on implementation was presented by AEP at the 2019 Canadian Dam Association annual conference in Calgary, October 6 to 10.
- Alberta Dam Safety Regulation (PDF, 644 KB)
Javid Iqbal, Manager, Dam Safety, AEP
Goals of the framework
The goals of the dam and canal safety regulatory framework are to establish a regulatory system in which:
- desired outcomes for safe dams and canals are achieved
- roles, responsibilities, accountabilities and authorities for dam owners are clear
- regulatory requirements are clear and measurable for effective performance monitoring and compliance assurance
- continuous improvements are possible through collaborative, forward looking and accommodating processes
For more information about plans and regulation of dam and canal safety in Alberta, see the Regulatory requirements section.
Legislation and guidelines
Water Act, regulations and directive
The Water Act is the primary statute that promotes conservation and management of water including its wise allocation and use.
The regulations provide administrative details of the Water Act. The act has 2 regulations:
The Water (Ministerial) Regulation is the secondary statute that provides information on the administration of the act. It includes definitions of important terms, identifies the basis for Water Act approvals and outlines regulatory requirements. Part 6 specifies the regulations for dam and canal safety.
The dam and canal safety regulation is non-prescriptive, outcome-based and covers the life cycle of the structures. The regulatory requirements for the life cycle of the project are based on risk and desired safety goals. The regulation outlines the responsibilities and accountabilities for dam owners and persons responsible for dam and canal safety including emergency management, safety assessments and evaluations, and reporting to the regulator.
The non-prescriptive aspect of the regulation is forward-looking and provides flexibility to permit dam owners to follow the best available technology and best applicable practices for achieving compliance and the desired safety outcomes for the structures. Most importantly, it promotes collaboration among the key stakeholders to promote continuous improvement in best practices and technology, and to develop innovative approaches to evaluate the safety performance of dams and canals.
The Water (Offences and Penalties) Regulation outlines consequences for violating the act or the Water (Ministerial) Regulation.
Dam and Canal Safety Directive
The Alberta Dam and Canal Safety Directive provides details of the regulatory requirements outlined in Part 6 of the Water (Ministerial) Regulation as well as the details on implementation of the regulation, including the specific documentation required for regulatory approvals under the act.
The requirements outlined in the directive are clear and measureable, which supports owners in achieving compliance and regulators in performance monitoring and reporting. The directive may be amended as required.
A ministerial order by the minister/deputy minister is required to designate an individual as a Director with the authority to make regulatory decisions under the Water Act. A Director under the act may subsequently designate other individuals to perform specific duties under the act and the regulations (for example, inspectors and investigators).
A ministerial order is also required to amend the Water (Ministerial) Regulation and to 'adopt the Alberta Dam and Canal Safety Directive by reference'. By adopting the directive by reference, the directive becomes enforceable with the same compliance obligations and consequences as the regulation.
The guidelines provide information to assist the owners in achieving compliance with the regulation. The following guideline documents are currently being updated to reflect the 2018 regulatory amendments:
- Emergency Management Guidelines
- Operation, Maintenance, and Surveillance Guidelines
- Small Dam Inspection and Maintenance Guidelines
The owners of dam or canal structures are responsible and accountable for the safety of their structures. The regulatory requirements for the structures are based on the risks and hazards posed by a structure and the assignment of consequence classification.
The consequence classification is a measure of risk as assessed by qualified professionals through a comprehensive analysis. It must be accepted by the regulator and reviewed periodically. Any change in the consequence classification will result in a review of the assigned regulatory requirements.
Alberta uses 5 consequence classifications for dams or canals based on the potential downstream consequences of a failure:
- very high
The classifications are similar to those suggested by the Canadian Dam Association. The factors at risk that influence the consequence classification include:
- downstream populations
- the environment
- the economy, cultural values and downstream infrastructure
Further information can be viewed at: Consequence Classification Ratings for Dams and Canals.
The regulatory requirements for all dams and canals address:
- consequence classification/risk
- general responsibilities and accountabilities
- investigations, design, construction, assessments and evaluations
- operation, maintenance and surveillance
- emergency management
- decommissioning, closure, abandonment, etcetera
- notifications to Director and orders to mitigate or avert failure
The regulatory requirements are commensurate with the risk posed by the structures. The owner is required to assess the risk/hazard posed by the structures and establish the consequence classification. The classification must be assessed by qualified professionals and reviewed periodically. Any change in the classification or risk must be reported to the dam and canal safety regulator. The specific details are outlined in the Dam and Canal Safety Directive.
General responsibilities and accountabilities
The owner is required to demonstrate that their dam or canal is designed and constructed using applicable best practices and standards as well as operated and maintained in a safe manner. Owners are also required to track and address the safety deficiencies and maintain documentation on safety management to support their due diligence. The scope and types of the documentation required are based on the consequence classification or risk posed by the structures. The specific details are outlined in the Dam and Canal Safety Directive.
Investigations, design, construction, assessments and evaluations
Owners are required to ensure that dam and canal structures are designed by qualified professionals and constructed with professional oversight. Owners are also required to ensure that periodic safety assessments and evaluations are performed by qualified professionals and are documented and reported to the dam and canal safety regulator as required. The specific requirements and frequency of safety assessments and evaluations are based on the consequence classification or risk posed by the structures. The specific details are outlined in the Dam and Canal Safety Directive.
Operation, maintenance and surveillance
The owner is required to ensure that an Operation, Maintenance and Surveillance Manual for dam and canal structures is prepared by qualified professionals and is reviewed periodically. The scope of the manual is determined by the professionals and is based on the consequence classification or risk posed by the structures. The owner is also required to ensure that the structures are operated and monitored by qualified individuals in accordance with the manual and terms and conditions of the Water Act authorization. The specific details are outlined in the Dam and Canal Safety Directive.
The owner is required to ensure that an Emergency Management Plan is prepared for their structures by qualified individuals and is reviewed periodically. The scope of the plan is determined by the qualified individuals and is based on the consequence classification or risk posed by the structures. The owner is also required to ensure that the plan is shared with key stakeholders and is tested periodically as required. The specific details are outlined in the Dam and Canal Safety Directive.
Decommissioning, closure, abandonment, etcetera
The owner is required to ensure that any plans for decommissioning, closure, or abandonment, etcetera for dam and canal structures are prepared by qualified professionals. The scope of the plans is determined by the qualified professionals and is based on the consequence classification or risk posed by the structures. The owner is also required to ensure that the plans are implemented as accepted by the regulator. The specific details are outlined in the Dam and Canal Safety Directive.
Notifications to Director and orders to mitigate or avert failure
The owner must report any hazardous condition that may affect the safety of the dam or canal, or any significant change in operations or surveillance to the Director/regulator. The specific details are outlined in the Dam and Canal Safety Directive. The Director may issue orders to owners directing specific courses of actions to mitigate or avert the failure if the Director considers them necessary to avoid any increase in risk to the factors at risk.