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ICE urges action to prevent dam collapses

23 Aug 13 The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the British Dam Society have urged Defra to ensure swift implementation of key changes to the 1975 Reservoirs Act.

The changes will ensure statutory safety checks for all reservoirs capable of holding over 10,000m3 of water that could pose a high risk to the public if their dam overtopped or collapsed.

Currently, the safety requirements set out in the Act, which include inspections every 10 years and a yearly check by a supervising engineer, only apply to large raised reservoirs capable of holding more than 25,000m3 of water. Smaller reservoirs are not subject to any safety requirements irrespective of the possible consequences of a dam collapse. Equally there are reservoirs holding above 25,000m3 that are subject to safety requirements when the consequences of failure are considered negligible.

The delays only apply to the implementation of the legislation in England. There are an estimated 1,957 large raised reservoirs capable of holding more than 25,000m3 of water and an estimated 1,300 smaller raised reservoirs capable of holding less than 25,000m3.

The Pitt Review recommended that the 1975 Act was updated to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place to protect the public, and most of the amendments were subsequently included in the 2010 Flood & Water Management Act.

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The 2010 Act set out a two phased approach to implementation in England. The first phase, which would see those reservoirs above 25,000 m3 posing little risk to the public no longer facing statutory inspections, has just been enacted following a lengthy delay. The implementation of phase two, which would see smaller reservoirs presenting a significant risk to society added into the 10-year inspection cycle, is however still uncertain.

ICE president Professor Barry Clarke welcomed the long-awaited implementation of Phase 1, but said the delay and uncertainty around the introduction of the important phase two, was concerning. He said: “The delay in implementing phase one has naturally created considerable uncertainty and scepticism regarding when phase two will be implemented in this parliament – and even whether it will be implemented at all. Without phase two residents, commercial and residential property, and infrastructure remain at risk, and this is especially concerning given the increase in heavy rain and flooding we have been experiencing in recent years.”

 He said that the delay is also creating uncertainty within the industry and the ability for both reservoir engineers and owners to make clear cut business decisions on what could be important safety work. “Reservoir professionals are working in partial isolation with no clear messages as to when, if or how the changes will be introduced,” he said. “England is now out of sync with the devolved UK nations, where more timely and sensible progress is being made, better reflecting the urgency of this situation. We urge Defra to set in place swift enactment of this important phase of the new legislation.”

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