Regulation of Dams in Canada

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), and dams constructed and operated by the Canadian’s nuclear industry (via Nuclear Safety Commission). The Federal Government also has regulatory interests through the Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, the Environmental Protection Act, and the Nuclear Safety and Control Act. The federal government manages its own dams, which are exempt from provincial regulation (e.g. Parks Canada Dams).

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 CDA Guidance Documents 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.

Dam Regulatory Framework


Summary Table

Links to the governing Acts or Regulation and to appropriate contacts are provided it in the summary table that follows.

Province/
Territory

Ministry/
Agency

Contact

Legislation/
Regulation

Regulation

Guidelines
(other than CDA)

~ Number of Dams

British Columbia
Water Supply Dams

Ministry of Forest

Water Management Branch

Dam Safety Program

Mike Noseworthy
Head, Dam Safety
778-622-6893

Water Sustainability Act

Dam Safety-Regulation

Inspection and Maintenance of Dams

Plan Submission Guidelines

Consequence of Failure Classification Guidelines

Compliance and Enforcement Policy

Legislative Dam Safety Review in BC-APEGBC Guidelines

Site Characterization for Dam Foundations in BC-APEGBC Guidelines

1,814 Regulated Dams
 

British Columbia
Mining Dams

Ministry of Energy & Mines and Low Carbon Innovation

Heather Narynski, Senior Geotechnical Inspector
250-893-3396

Mines Act

Health, Safety & Reclamation Code

Dam Safety Inspection Guidelines

APEGBC Professional Practice Guidelines

Legislative Dam Safety Review in BC-APEGBC Guidelines

118

Alberta
Non-Energy Related Dams
(Water and Tailings Dams)

Alberta Environment and Parks

dam.safety@gov.ab.ca
(780) 422-1355

Water Act

Water Ministerial Regulation

Dam Safety Directive

1276 Regulated dams

Alberta
Energy Related Dams
(Water and Tailings Dams)

Alberta Energy Regulator

Santiago Paz
Dam Safety Engineer
(780) 642-9124

Water Act

Water Ministerial Regulation

Dam Safety Directive

230 Regulated dams

Saskatchewan
Water Supply Dams

Water Security Agency

Allison Ruecker
Manager, Dam Safety
306-631-8114

Water Security Agency Act (1) Water Security Agency Act

No

1,300 (2)

Saskatchewan
Tailings Dams

Ministry of Environment

Tim Moulding
Uranium and Northern
Operations
(306) 933-7063

Webpage
Download Environmental Assessment Act

No

No

29

Manitoba

Environment,Climate and Parks

David Hay
A/Director, Drainage and Water Rights Licensing Branch
(204) 945-7096

The Water Rights Act

No

No

570

Ontario
Water Supply Dams
 

Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry

Joanna Samson
Water Resources Section
705-772-8762


Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (LRIA)


Ontario Regulation 454/96 Construction

LRIA Administrative Guide, Technical Bulletins and Best Management Practices

3,300+

Ontario
Tailings Dams
(Reclamation)

Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (3)

Rob Schryburt,
Manager, Engineering Services Unit
(705) 670 5737

Mining Act

No

No

N/A

Québec (Français)
Quebec (English)
Water Supply Dams

Ministère de l'Environnement, et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques
(Français)
(English)

Michel Rhéaume
Directeur de la sécurité
des barrages
(418) 521 3945

Loi sur la sécurité des barrages - 
Mise à jour en cours suite à la modification de la Loi sur la sécurité des barrages du 12 mai 2022 (Français)
Dam Safety Act 
Update in progress following the modification to the Dam Safety Act on May 12th 2022 (English)

Règlement sur la sécurité des barrages
(Français)
Dam Safety Regulation
(English)

Guides, Forms and Maps (French only/Français seulement)

6200+ (11)

Québec (Français)
Quebec (English)
Mining Dams

Ressources naturelles
(Français)
Natural Resources
(English)

Mélanie Turgeon,
Direction de la restauration des sites miniers
418-627-6292,
poste 5608

La Loi sur
les mines

(Français)
Mining Act
(English)

No

No

N/A

New Brunswick

Environment &
Local Government

 

Clean Water Act

No (4)

No

240

Nova Scotia

Environment

Mark Greenwood
902-471-7132

Environment Act-Regulation

No

No (5)

200

Newfoundland
& Labrador

Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment

Paula V. Dawe
Water Resources Management Division
(709) 729-4048

Water Ressources Act(6)

No
(Planned
within 2-5 yrs)

No

>700

Prince Edward Island

Environment,
Energy & Forestry

 (7)
 

No

No

No

N/A

Yukon
Territory

Water Board
Water Resources
Section
 (8)

Philippe Thibert-Leduc
Manager of Environmental Compliance and Inspections
867-667-3227

Waters Act (Yukon)

No

No

21

Northwest
Territories

(9)Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board

Jacqueline Ann Ho,
Regulatory Specialist
867-766-7455

Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act
Waters Act - Justice

Waters Regulation

No

approximately 100

 

Nunavut

Nunavut Water Board

Karen Kharatyan,
Director, Technical Services
867-360-6338

Nunavut Waters&Surface Rights Tribunal Act

No

No

Unknown

Canadian
Federal
Government

Canadian Nuclear
Safety Commission

Dr. Grant Su
Environmental Risk
Assessment Division
(613) 943-9932

Nuclear Safety and Control Act (10)

No

Various

Over 100
(Uranium
Mining
Related)

Canadian
Federal
Government

Parks Canada
Agency

André Roy
Dam Safety Program
(819) 953-4644

Internal Directive
(self-regulated)

No

Various

Over 225

Notes:

  1. Approvals are required under the Water Security Act in Saskatchewan to construct and operate water storage dams.
  2. The 1300 water storage dams currently identified within Saskatchewan pertains to those having a storage capacity of 40 dam^3 or more. Approximately 8960 dams exist within the province having a volume of 1.0 dam^3 or more.
  3. Rehabilitation of all mine hazards, which include tailings dams, at the end of the mine life.  Recording and staged rehabilitation of Abandoned Mine sites returned to the crown, including their associated tailings dams.
  4. Under the Watercourse Alteration Regulation, a permit is required for construction of all new dams or dikes in New Brunswick.
  5. CDA guidelines are the recognized industry standard in Nova Scotia. One of the requirements for obtaining an operating license is to demonstrate compliance with the CDA Guidelines.
  6. Under the Water Resources Act, a permit is required for construction of all new dams or dikes in Newfoundland and Labrador.
  7. There are no dams of significant size in PEI.
  8. The Yukon Water Board issues licences for dams that are associated with mining, hydro projects, etc. Mining projects are also regulated under the Quartz Mining Act and Quartz Mining Licences are issued by the Mineral Resources Branch of Yukon Government. The Compliance Monitoring and Inspections Branch of Department of Energy Mines and Resources provides inspection services on mining files; where as the Department of Environment, Environmental Compliance and Inspections section provides inspection services on all non-mining files.
  9. The Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act (MVRMA) came into being in 1998 as a result of the Gwich'in and Sahtu Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements. The Act created co-management boards for both the Gwich'in and Sahtu settlement areas and it established the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board (MVLWB). With the signing of the Tlicho Land Claims and Self-Government Agreement in 2005, the Wekeezhii Land and Water Board was created, and became a regional panel of the MVLWB.
  10. The CNSC also takes into account various other National and Provincial Regulations and Guidelines and International best practices.
  11. Number of dams in the registry as of February 2020.