September 15, 2022 - Dam Safety Committee
Tag(s): Documentation

Update on the CDA Guidelines Survey

In October 2021, the Dam Safety Committee (DSC) launched a questionnaire to generate member feedback on the current (2013) version of the Dam Safety Guidelines (the Guidelines) and the accompanying Technical Bulletins, most of which date to 2007.  The survey period was closed in February 2022 and the DSC is in the process of evaluating the responses and working on the path forward.

Firstly, the DSC would like to recognize the efforts made by the CDA members who took time to respond to this survey.  Ninety-eight responses were received for the English version and thirteen for the French.  A wide spectrum of roles in the industry, with a range of technical experience, and general input from regions across the country was noted which all helped to ensure good representation of the Canadian context when analyzing the results. 

In order to keep CDA members acquainted with the survey results and the ensuing work, various Gazette messages, Bulletin articles, webinar sessions and conference presentations will be offered over the coming months.  In this “Bulletin” communication, a few highlights and some background are given.

  1. Locating information within the Guidelines was judged to be relatively easy but instances do arise where the reader was not able to obtain the required information.  It was noted in the survey responses that additional detail would be appreciated and, on occasions, more prescriptive guidance where (and if) appropriate.  The existence of other documents such as the Technical Bulletin on the “Application of the Dam Safety Guidelines to Mining Dams” (2014, rev. 2017), is perhaps not widely known and the membership is encouraged to consult other CDA publications as well as the Guidelines. All CDA publications are available on the CDA website for online reading by members.
  2. With reference to specific section comments, responders indicated some difficulty with the application of the consequence classification system, and there is some apparent discomfort with the application of the Risk Informed Approach.  These are not new concerns nor are they straightforward to address. The DSC understands these comments and will endeavor to improve these areas of the guidance in the future work plan, as well as to identify areas where additional references could be of assistance.  However, a few words on the basis and development of the Guidelines are in order at this time.

The Canadian Dam Association (CDA) publishes guidance documents to promote knowledge and good practice related to dams. However, CDA is not a regulatory authority; neither is it a body that sets standards for the operation of dams.  The Dam Safety Guidelines were first published in 1995, after three years of effort by working groups across the country who were part of the original Canadian Dam Safety Association (or CDSA), to provide a framework for dam owners, operators and engineers to use in considering issues of dam safety.  Three revisions were released in 1999, 2007 and 2013 (select sections of main guidelines only).  Each of these revisions was initiated following receipt of comments (including a 2000 survey distributed to members) in order to clarify certain issues, to provide greater detail in some areas, and to ensure a wide application.  It can be safely stated that the Guidelines represent a consensus on good practice related to dams in Canada.

In the Canadian context, where water resources and mining activities are mainly under provincial or territorial jurisdiction, care has to be exercised to diminish the risk of contradiction between the Guidelines and any existing or even future regulations.  As most of the members are aware, the level of regulation varies across the country.  For these reasons, the provision of prescriptive detailed guidance is inappropriate and may be counterproductive.  That being said, the Guidelines have and will continue to provide a framework by which dam safety activities (including design, construction, operation, maintenance and public safety) can be carried out to high standards.  The CDA work has received worldwide recognition for its contribution to the industry in general and the goal is to maintain these technical contributions as the industry evolves in Canada and internationally.

However, coherence with other sources of information is important.  The DSC is aware of the fact that different criteria may be found in other publications from national bodies and from ICOLD.  This is not entirely unexpected when dealing with responses to various natural phenomena and by jurisdictions holding diverse priorities when it comes to social and political policy.  The DSC will endeavor, in future communications, to provide context for the suggested guidance and any revisions thereof which will in turn enable users of the Guidelines to correctly interpret content and make appropriate decisions relating to the application of the Guidelines in their own fields of activity.