The Canadian Dam Association (CDA) is the single body within Canada representing the dam industry on both national and international fronts. Prior to 1997 CANCOLD provided representation to icold, while the Canadian Dam Safety Association (CDSA) focused on the local interests of the dam community. In 1997 CANCOLD and CDSA amalgamated to form the Canadian Dam Association in order to provide more effective and consistent representation of the Canadian perspective regarding the life cycle management of dams.

In Canada, regulations regarding waterways are a provincial matter. However, only three of the ten provinces have developed formal dam safety regulations under their water acts; those being Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec. Dam safety guidelines developed by the CDA serve to supplement provincial regulations where they exist and as a defacto guide to the state of practice for the dam engineering community in a majority of the remaining provinces where there are no regulations. The CDA dam safety guidelines were originally produced in 1995 and underwent a major revision in 2007.

One of the key features of the revised dam safety guidelines is that they now address the issue of public safety around dams as well as the traditional aspects of dam safety which guard against catastrophic losses from failure. In Canada there have only been three recorded dam failures that resulted in loss of life, the most recent of which was in 1964. However there have been a significant number of lives lost related to the ‘drowning machine’ effect at the base of low head spillways, as well as to the operation of dams.

Recent trends have made sports and various activities on waterways more attractive to society. This has posed some issues to dam owners who often must now operate under some restrictions in order to allow recreational activities. The dam community is addressing measures that must be taken to protect public safety near dams and to ensure hazardous areas are well identified or fenced off. The dam community is also investing in public education to increase the public’s awareness of hazards around dams.

In addressing the broader issue of public safety the CDA expanded the definition of a dam to include structures that are less than 2.5m in height, but which by the nature of their design create hydraulic conditions that can cause concerns for public safety. The new guidelines contain a separate Technical Bulletin, entitled Public Safety and Security Around Dams. This is currently in draft for comment by the membership, and will be finalised by the year end. The voluntary adoption of the bulletin by dam owners will result in significant improvements to signs, booms and other physical control measures installed at dams, as well as the operation of spillways.

Recruitment challenge

As with the US, Canada is facing the challenge of attracting young professionals into the dam industry. As experienced dam safety engineers and operations staff reach their retirement age, these young professionals are needed to meet the growing demand within Canada for new build as well as the continued safe operation of dams.

In this regard certainly more can be done to expose students to the dam and hydro power industry as careers of choice and to provide attractive field opportunities at an early stage in their career development. One option being pursued in Canada has been to offer senior personnel incentive packages which encourage them to remain in the workplace. Working in either a full or part time capacity they will primarily mentor younger talent, but also provide core values and experience that strategically offer owners comfort that their investments are receiving appropriate attention by experienced personnel.

With the median age of dams in Canada approaching 60 years, regulators will be seeking assurances that the structures are meeting current day standards, while owners will be facing increased maintenance costs as well as replacement and decommissioning options. These are the challenges of the dam industry in Canada; challenges which the Canadian Dam Association is prepared to address.

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Issues facing the dam community

Some of the issues faced by the Canadian dam community may be somewhat unique. For example:
The anti-dam movement and the World Commission on Dams report have had relatively minor impacts on the dam industry in Canada. However, there have been some instances where First Nations’ rights may not have been adequately addressed in the original developments of dams, and where settlements of these issues had to be addressed retrospectively. Recent dam developments have been successful in securing community buy-in and instituting partnerships and agreements between developers and First Nations, during the early project stages.
In Canada, dams and waterways regulations are a provincial matter. Many of the Canadian provinces do not have specific dam safety regulations under their Water Acts. Those who do have adopted various regulatory models, and sometimes different standards. The Canadian Dam Association has been a unifying influence and a promoter of good practice across Canada. Its guidelines are generally well referenced and used among the dam engineering community. However, practising engineers have to remain cognizant of where specific requirement of provincial regulations can be different from the CDA guidelines. Unique problems can be encountered where dams cross inter-provincial boundaries and are thus subject to two different regulatory requirements.