Regulation of Dams
There are over 14,000 dams in Canada, with approximately 1000 categorized as “large” dams and registered with the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD). Dams in Canada are owned by federal or provincial governments, utilities, municipalities, industrial and mining companies, irrigation districts, non-government organizations and private individuals.
The regulation of construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of dams in Canada is a provincial/territorial responsibility and is similar to other areas of provincial jurisdiction such as health and education. Unlike some other countries (e.g. France, Portugal, Mexico, South Africa, etc… ), Canada does not have a federal regulatory agency or over-arching program to guide the development of requirements for the safe management of dams.
However, the Federal Government has regulatory requirement over some aspects such as approval of dams to be constructed in navigable waters and dams located on boundary waters with the US (via International Joint Commissions). The Federal Government also has regulatory interests through the Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, and the Environmental Protection Act.
The federal government manages its own dams, which are exempt from provincial regulation (e.g. Parks Canada Dams and dams associated with operation of Nuclear Power Facilities managed by CNSC).
Provincial and territorial jurisdictions generally have their own regulatory framework and guidelines to inform the dam owners/operators about roles and responsibilities, regulatory requirements, processes and procedures as well as methodologies for compliance assurance. The provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Québec have varying degrees of specific regulatory requirements. Some jurisdictions may rely on legislation related to management of water resources and make reference to industry best practices as published by the Canadian Dam Association.
The Canadian Dam Association (CDA) is a volunteer organization that was formed in the 1980s to provide dam owners, operators, consultants, suppliers and government agencies with a national forum to discuss issues of dam safety in Canada. The Dam Safety Guidelines and other guidance developed by CDA can provide regulators with a basis for evaluating the safety of dams within their respective jurisdictions.
Before any water retaining structure is constructed or modified, the dam owner requires authorization according to the requirement of to the related jurisdiction and its regulatory authority. There are often different ministries/agencies in each province or territory that are responsible for water dams and mine tailings dams.
The regulatory framework that governs dams (water and mining) in each of the Canadian provinces and territories is described in the following. Links to the governing Acts or Regulation and to appropriate contacts are provided it the summary table that follows.