What are the Recent Changes Made to Dam Safety Regulations and Classifications?

In December 2018, the Government of Alberta made significant changes to the Water (Ministerial) Regulation and released a new Alberta Dam and Canal Safety Directive (the Directive). This new Directive introduced substantial changes for existing water storage structures in Alberta.

A dam is now defined as “a barrier constructed for retention, storing, or diverting water including water containing another substance, fluid waste, or flowable tailings and includes all other works associated with such a barrier”.

In this context, everything that holds water is a dam and all dams require a consequence classification completed by a qualified professional.

What Regulatory Authorities and Requirements Should People be Aware Of?

The regulation of construction, operation, maintenance, and decommissioning of dams in Canada is a provincial/territorial responsibility. Within the Province of Alberta, legislation falls under 3 key documents:

  • Water Act – Alberta Regulation
  • Water (Ministerial) Regulation which holds the Alberta Dam and Canal Safety Directive
  • Ministerial Orders

The regulatory requirements for a classified dam include:

  • Initial notification to Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) which includes Engineer-of-Record as well as feasibility design
  • Detailed Design Information
  • Construction Information
  • Construction Documents
  • Operations Requirements

What is the New Definition of a Dam?

As mentioned earlier, all structures that create barriers to retain, store, or divert water are dams, but the consequence classification will spell out how much of the new Directive will apply to the dam structure.

For instance, dams with more than 30,000 m3 of live storage (defined by storage above original ground) or have berms higher than 2.5 meters are subject to new design and operating standards within the new Directive.


If the dam structure at failure has no risk to human life, minimum short-term loss and no long-term loss to the environment, and poses low economic losses to the area, it will be classified as a low consequence dam and avoid much of the new Directive requirements.

However, if you have a dam that has a consequence classification of Significant or higher, it will be subject to the new design and operation standards contained in the Directive.

What are the Impacts of this New Classification?

The impacts are determined case by case and will greatly depend on the consequence classification, but some of the impacts may include:

  • Owners must have an “Operations Manager” with 10 years of related experience, and a “Safety Manager” with 15 years of related experience.
  • May require annual engineering inspections.
  • Annual performance reviews completed by the Designer-of-Record.
  • There must be an Engineer of Record with 15 years of dam or canal experience.

If it is a new purposed dam there are very prescriptive and detailed requirements for site investigations, construction completion reporting and operating requirements.

If you have an existing dam structure the first step is completing the consequence classification and understanding what parts of the Directive will have impacts.

If you are looking at building a new structure, look hard at how to build the dam designing below the threshold of a low consequence classification.  

How can Journey Engineering Help Me Manage This in the Future?

We can do an initial desktop review that may include reviewing existing design/construction information, photos, or topographical information. If required, we can visit the site in question and review the structure or complete a consequence classification and prescribe further requirements.

We have also helped clients avoid some of the more onerous requirements by getting involved early with planning and scouting potential locations that will allow for a design that will meet their storage requirements, and also provide a dam design that will not exceed thresholds to higher consequence classifications.

No matter your stage, we can help guide you through this process. Please call (587) 210-2329 or email; we would be delighted to arrange a face to face or virtual meeting to discuss your needs and our experience.