Proposed new regulations will impose significant and unnecessary costs on farmers and growers who have installed on-farm storage ponds and dams, says IrrigationNZ.

"On-farm storage ponds and dams are very common in New Zealand. In some areas, most farms have on-farm storage of some kind. Having storage on a farm is desirable as it improves drought resilience. Both central and local government should be supportive of appropriate water storage" said IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Elizabeth Soal.

"While we recognise that large and high-risk dams do need a safety assurance programme in place, the proposed new regulations disincentivize on-farm storage by imposing significant unjustified costs on farmers who have small ponds and dams which have little or no practical safety risks," she said.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) is consulting on proposed new requirements for owners of dams or storage ponds, and some other forms of water infrastructure would also be captured by the regulations.

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Is your dam up to scratch? New regulations proposed

The proposed new scheme pulls together post-construction regulatory requirements into a single, consistent nationwide framework.

The owners of dams will be responsible for ensuring that their dams are being managed appropriately, proportionate to the risk they pose.

MBIE said on its website:

"The proposals aim to ensure that classifiable dams are well maintained and regularly monitored, and that potential risks of dam failure are reduced.

"The scheme also recognises that the dam safety requirements need to be regularly reviewed because the consequences of dam failure can change over time due to factors such as site conditions, urban development or population growth".

The proposed regulations would apply to:

• Dams or ponds which are less than four metres high and hold 30,000m3 or more, or
• Are 4m or more high and hold 20,000m3 or more.

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At a minimum, pond or dam owners whose storage meets one of the two criteria above would need to engage a recognised engineer to undertake a Potential Impact Assessment of the pond or dam (at a cost of around $5000) and submit it to their council.

If the Potential Impact Assessment of a pond or dam failure was found to be medium or high then a dam safety assurance programme would be required (at an estimated cost of $6000 to $30,000) along with an annual audit at a cost of around $5000.

"We are concerned that the criteria used to assess the effects of large dams is being applied to quite small on-farm ponds and dams. Many storage ponds in New Zealand are also built on plains. These ponds store much of their water below ground level which means that most of the water would not escape even if a failure occurred and any escaped water would rapidly dissipate," said Soal.

"The proposed new regulations are out of step with international requirements which typically only apply a safety assurance programme to large dams. For example, in the USA dam safety requirements apply to dams over 7.6 metres high which hold over 61,000m3 and in Queensland they apply to dams over eight metres which hold 500,000m3 or more," she said.

As well as applying to water stored for irrigation, the new regulations could affect farmers who have effluent ponds, flood prevention or capture dams, stock water storage ponds, and canals or races with built-up sides.

The regulations have been in the development process for many years and IrrigationNZ has previously submitted to the government on these issues, highlighting how common on-farm storage is and warning about the potential unintended consequences of the legislation.

IrrigationNZ said it is encouraging affected farmers and growers to make a submission expressing their views.

More information is online at www.mbie.govt.nz/have-your-say.

Consultation closes on 6 August.