New dam safety regulations to protect people and property

Published: 13 May 2022

New regulations announced today by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will provide a nationally consistent approach to dam safety.

Until now, Aotearoa New Zealand was one of the few countries in the OECD that did not have an operative dam safety framework. The lack of a consistent framework posed a risk to people, property and the environment. The regulations announced today change that.

“From 13 May 2024, the owners of dams that meet the height and volume requirements will need to confirm the potential risk their dam poses, put in place safety plans and undertake regular dam inspections. This will help to ensure that an essential part of New Zealand’s infrastructure remains safe and reliable,” says Amy Moorhead, Manager Building Policy at MBIE.

“The new regulatory framework will reduce the likelihood of dam failures which have the potential to cause significant harm a great distance downstream.”

Dams that fall within the scope of the regulations will be given a potential impact classification based on their potential to cause harm in the event of failure.

Medium and high potential impact dams will be required to have a dam safety assurance programme. These dams will be required have regular monitoring and surveillance practices in place for the safe operation of dams.

Low potential impact dams will have no ongoing requirements except for their initial classifications and then regular classification reviews every 5 years.

“Most small farm dams and ponds and weirs will be excluded from the regulatory framework as they are unlikely to meet the minimum size or storage volume thresholds,” says Ms Moorhead.

Engineering New Zealand Te Ao Rangahau is developing a programme for assessing and registering Recognised Engineers. Recognised Engineers will be required to determine potential impact classifications and to certify and audit dam safety assurance programmes. Those engineers who complete the relevant assessment requirements will be able to conduct these tasks.

The new dam safety regulations also require dam owners to review their dams against flood performance criteria every 5 years as part of a comprehensive safety review.

“Our understanding of the effects of climate change is continuing to improve with time. We want to ensure the new safety provisions remain fit for purpose in a changing environment,” says Ms Moorhead.

The regulations will apply to dams that are:

  • 4 metres or higher with a volume of 20,000m3 (8 Olympic-sized swimming pools) or greater, or
  • 1 metre or higher with a volume of 40,000m3 (16 Olympic-sized swimming pools) or greater.

The regulations will come into effect in May 2024, and once in force dam owners will have a further 1-2 years to undertake the necessary work to classify their dam and put in place a dam safety assurance programme.

Guidance for dam owners is available on the Building Performance website:

Dam safety(external link) — Building Performance

MBIE media contact