Dam safety regulator given teeth

Dam Safety NSW given teeth to enforce regulations to protect communities

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Dam Safety NSW said one of the projects identified as posing a risk to community safety was Winburndale Dam, owned by Bathurst Regional Council. Pictured, Bathurst mayor Bobby Bourke with MP Paul Toole checking out the progress to strengthen the dam wall. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

Dam Safety NSW said one of the projects identified as posing a risk to community safety was Winburndale Dam, owned by Bathurst Regional Council. Pictured, Bathurst mayor Bobby Bourke with MP Paul Toole checking out the progress to strengthen the dam wall. Photo: CHRIS SEABROOK

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Maximum penalties go from $1100 to $1.1 million.

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Until independent regulator Dam Safety NSW was established last year, owners of large, declared dams could only be fined a maximum of $1100 for not adhering to safety standards put in place to protect communities.

Now the regulator can impose penalties of up to $1.1 million for corporations.

There are 400 declared dams across the state. Dam Safety NSW CEO Chris Salkovic said the main criteria to define a declared dam was that if the dam failed it could pose a threat to lives.

"Probably about a third of declared dams are owned by large water companies, another third would be local government and the last third would be mining," Mr Salkovic said.

He said there had been a dam safety regulator in NSW since 1978, the Dams Safety Committee.

"The Committee did a good job holding things together for many years but there was a growing concern of lack of clear enforceable standards in the industry, it was very confusing for a lot of dam owners," Mr Salkovic said.

"The regulator was also not equipped to enforce compliance, they didn't have any teeth."

Mr Salkovic said despite the increase in their capacity to enforce regulations, they mostly helped dam owners make a plan to become compliant.

He said one example of this was Winburndale Dam, which can hold an estimated 1700 million litres and is owned by Bathurst Regional Council.

"The dam was constructed in the 1930s and it was originally identified by the Dam Safety Committee that it did not meet contemporary flood standards," Mr Salkovic said.

"If there was to be a large flood event, it was determined that that dam could pose an unacceptable risk to the community.

"We made sure the dam owners did something about it and there's now a $10 million renovation on the dam wall underway, to be finished at the end of 2020."

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