Volume 20 Issue 3, 2005

The need for private dam safety assurance policy – demonstrative case studies 10 years later

Dr John Pisaniello, Professor Jennifer McKay

Peer-reviewed Article

Archived Article


Farmers in Australia have often overlooked the common law obligation to review/design dams in line with current standards because of high engineering consulting costs. This leaves them vulnerable to litigation if their dam fails and the downstream community susceptible to unacceptable risk levels. The seriousness of this problem was demonstrated by a case study undertaken 10 years ago in the dam safety policy-absent State of South Australia. The paper presented here follows up previous research by testing whether giving more time, awareness and encouragement to farmers addresses the problem to any extent. This has been tested in the “still” policy-absent State of South Australia and the “now” policy-driven State of Victoria. In each of the two States, 10 hazardous private reservoirs have been investigated for spillway adequacy in line with state-of-the-art practice. The investigation follows the release of an innovative Australian developed cost-effective spillway design/review procedure which was available and promoted in both States to minimise cost burdens to dam owners and encourage better dam safety management. The case studies clearly demonstrate that farmers require more than awareness and encouragement in order to ensure they properly look after their dams.