WA – Dam Safety in Western Australia

As many of our readers will appreciate, there is no dam safety legislation in Western Australia, despite efforts to have it introduced over the years.  Our correspondent, Brian Humphries, from Denmark on the south coast has been appalled at the current approaches to dam construction and has been actively lobbying the politicians to take action.  He has been concerned that many Shires do not require any approvals to construct a private dam and yet some are bigger than some of the Water Corporation’s dams.  The Minister for Water has invited him to make contact with the Department of Water to discuss the issues, an invitation which we propose to take up.

Some years ago (2009) the State Auditor General reviewed preparedness for major emergencies and found that “Many of these (larger private) dams are increasingly holding larger volumes of water.  Many are in the South West of the state and in close proximity to major population areas.”  As dam break was not a prescribed hazard, the emergency response agencies were therefor not in a position legally to be able to take action in the event of a dam breach occurring.

The Fire and Emergency Services prepared a position paper on dam break following a series of minor incidents.  In January this year the Minister for Emergency Services advised Brian, in part, as follows;

“I am advised by the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) that Westplan Dambreak remains under review and as such, the issue and scope of dambreak will be thoroughly assessed using a risk assessment methodology, to identify the risks, recommend appropriate risk treatments and consider communications and marketing strategies.  It is the intention of SEMC to invite you to participate and contribute to this assessment.  I will await the outcome of this assessment prior to considering any further action.”

More recently Brian attended the following event and reported as follows:

“SEMC Reviews Westplan Dambreak

On June 26 2015, the State Emergency Management Committee convened a Workshop on the status of Westplan Dambreak.  The Workshop was attended by about 25 invited participants that included emergency management coordinators from various State Government departments and key private sector stakeholders and assessed a cross-section of dambreak scenarios from a State-level risk perspective.

This initiative by the SEMC was targeted as a long overdue and welcomed review of the existing Westplan Dambreak that currently only relates to Water Corporation dams but which has historically ignored all the other types of dams that alarmingly remain without any statutory “prescribed hazard” recognition under the Emergency Management Act.

The Workshop conducted risk assessments on a mix of Water Corporation dams, dams owned and operated by other Government agencies, mine tailing dams and private dams.

Hopefully the outcomes of the Workshop, which should now be followed up with a detailed focus on District-level and Local-level Workshops, will demonstrate to SEMC that the approval of Dam Safety Regulations in WA are necessary to mitigate the current risks to the community of a potentially catastrophic dam disaster. “

One additional comment that has emerged during recent discussions and that will be of some interest to ANCOLD is the question of insurance cover for all private dam owners.  Some of the major insurers require all structures covered under their policies to be constructed and maintained to relevant Australian Standards.  As there has often been little professional input into their design and construction, many private dams in WA may have no effective insurance cover against dam break.

Bob Wark

State Representative for WA and

Convener for the State Representatives

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