Dam Safety Regulatory Framework

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) is the custodian of the Water Act and relevant Regulations, Directives and Codes of Practice. Alberta has significantly updated its water legislation, to better manage and protect its water and to streamline water-related administrative processes including dam and canal safety regulation.

About the Regulatory Framework

Purpose and Components of the Framework

The purpose of dam safety regulation is to promote safety of the dams and canals in the province, primarily to prevent loss of life and secondly, to minimize economic and environmental losses due to potential failure of these structures.

The Regulatory Framework in Alberta consists of the following components:

  • Water Act
  • Water (Ministerial) Regulation
  • Ministerial Orders
  • Guidelines

Goals of the Framework

The Regulatory Framework provides compliance capability to the regulators to achieve the desired outcomes by ensuring that dam owners and operators take responsibility for the integrity and safe operations of their dams.

For more information about plans and regulation of dam safety in Alberta, see the Dam Safety Regulatory Requirements section.

Water Act and Regulations

The Water Act is the primary statute that promotes conservation and management of water including its wise allocation and use.

Water Act


The regulations provide administrative details of the Water Act. The Act has two regulations:

The Water (Ministerial) Regulation is the secondary statute that provides information pertaining to administration of the Act, including definitions of relevant terms and activities that need approvals under the Act as well as the regulatory requirements and consequences of non-compliance.

Part 6 of the Regulation deals with Dam and Canal Safety and stipulates key regulatory requirements for the safety of these structures.

The Regulation is non-prescriptive/goal-based in terms of specifying the dam safety guidelines and procedures to be followed for the life cycle of the project. It is designed in a way that the dam owners and operators are solely responsible for the safety of their dams along with ongoing monitoring, as well as conducting safety assessments and evaluations.

The non-prescriptive aspect of the Regulation makes it unique and flexible enough to cover most compliance situations from a regulatory perspective along with providing greater flexibility to the dam owners to follow the best practices for achieving compliance.

Most importantly it promotes cooperation among the regulator, the dam owners and operators, and other stakeholders to readily adopt the best practices in dam safety management and encourages them to develop innovative approaches to promote continuous improvement in performance that goes beyond the required compliance. The other benefits that can be attributed to this type of legislation include:

  • More focus on performance monitoring rather than constantly focusing on updating guidelines
  • Liability issues
  • Resource management

Ministerial Orders

The Ministerial orders include designation of officials (the "Directors") for the purpose of making decisions under the Act. The Directors are designated by the Minister/Deputy Minister. A designated Director may also designate other staff for specific decisions and authorities (e.g. inspectors, investigators).


The guidelines provide details on implementation of the Dam Safety Regulatory Framework. The details include dam safety regulatory requirements, procedures and processes, and guidance on achieving compliance.

Dam Safety Regulatory Requirements

The regulatory requirements are established based on the consequence classification of the structures and/or risks or hazards posed by the structures. The dams in the province are periodically assessed and evaluated by independent professional engineers and the dam safety regulator to update the consequence classification. The dam safety regulatory requirements are reviewed and updated as well based on any change in the consequence classification of the structures.

Dam Safety uses five classifications for dams based on evaluation of the potential downstream consequences of failure in terms of three categories; namely, loss of life, environment and cultural values, and infrastructure and economics, similar to dam classification ratings suggested by the Canadian Dam Association (CDA).

The key regulatory requirements include:

  • Plans and operation
  • Safety assessments and evaluation
  • Safety directives
  • Suspension, cessation, abandonment, decommissioning

Plans and Operation

The requirements include preparation of an Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP), Emergency Response Plan (ERP), Flood Action Plan (FAP) and/or Operation, Maintenance and Surveillance (OM&S) manual for the dams and canals, and require dam owners and operators to operate and maintain their structures in accordance with the Act and the Regulation.

For a summary of the criteria used to establish the requirements for plans and operation, see:

Safety Assessments and Evaluation

The requirements include performing periodic safety assessments based on site investigations, inspections and other on-going monitoring and surveillance activities by the dam owners and operators as well as periodic safety evaluation by independent professional engineers.

For a summary of the criteria used to establish the frequency of assessments, evaluations and reporting results, see:

Safety Directives

The requirements include immediately notifying Dam Safety if the conditions are or may likely be hazardous to the dams or canals and/or become a hazard to public safety, human health, property or the environment, and also requires the dam owners and operators to operate the structures in accordance with applicable emergency management plans.

Suspension, Cessation, Abandonment, Decommissioning

The requirements include obtaining formal authorization before commencing any of the above-mentioned activities.

Related Information


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Updated: Jun 7, 2018