William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Generally, the world’s largest dams have been erected and managed
by governments, while individual owners have been responsible for private
dams. Both kinds of dams have experienced technical failures that
have resulted in tragic losses of life as well as disastrous damage to property
and environment, and this has generated serious concerns regarding
dams’ safety worldwide. In Australia, despite the fact that attention has
been focused on the physical and technical integrity of medium- to largescale
dams, the smaller private dams have been virtually ignored with
regard to their serious potential and actual problems. Specifically, private
dams pose threats to downstream communities and environment
in larger catchments due to these dams having potential cumulative
safety dangers. This paper establishes the significance of this problem.
The main issues and concerns surrounding the (lack of) implementation
of private dam safety assurance and environmental protection laws have
been identified and illustrated with Australian case studies. An international
comparative review of private dam safety assurance policies, laws,
and management practices has been conducted in order to provide a basis
for addressing these issues. The practices analyzed comprise Australia
(including New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania), the United States(including Michigan and Washington), Canada (including Alberta), the
United Kingdom, South Africa, and Finland. The review/analysis has
identified benchmarks for and elements of “best” and “minimum” practice
that can and do exist successfully to control the safety management of
private dams and minimize both individual and cumulative dam safety
threats within catchments. These elements have led to the development
of models of “best” and “minimum” practice and guidelines for selecting
“appropriate” practice suitable for varying jurisdictional circumstances;
their application is illustrated with an Australian case study. The models
and associated comparative guidance provided here enable appropriate
law and policy arrangements for private dam safety assurance to be
determined and/or checked for any jurisdiction worldwide.