Friday, April 19, 2024

More dam regs we don’t want or need

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Wellsford sheep breeder Gordon Levet takes on the new dam safety regulations.
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By Gordon Levet, a Wellsford sheep breeder.

We are now a nation of regulations, along with the rest of the western world.  As was outlined in an article published in the Farmers Weekly, new dam regulations are due in May. These new laws are from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

The article outlined the details of this new legislation, which include  the height of the dam wall, and the volume of water contained.  These dams will be rated as low, medium and high impact and may be subject to a “dam safety resource programme” involving registered engineers.  

Obviously, this will come at a cost. Another regulatory cost for the farmer.  

However, these regulations fail to mention the most important factor regarding dam construction and maintenance.  The area of catchment can range from nil (where a spring is enlarged to form a dam) to 1000mhectares, or more.  

Taking into account the catchment area is vital in considering the construction of any dam. It determines the volume of water and potential for downstream erosion.  

A dam could prevent all this damage if an overflow pipe (the size determined by the catchment area) is placed up to half a metre below the top of the dam.  This also serves as a catchment for most silt, including surface grass debris and animal manure that occurs in flash flooding events.  

I estimate that 90-95% of erosion and nutrient loss occurs as a result of flash flooding.  

On our property, with some highly erodible areas, we have created a number of catchment ponds to prevent erosion, which also collect silt and nutrients.  This system will help to reduce polluting of our rivers, lakes and harbours.

As for why these new regulations are needed, the Ministry states that “NZ was one of the few countries in the OECD that did not have a operative dam safety framework”.  

Why are we to compare our practices to that of other OECD countries, when our geography, fauna and flora are very different to those of other countries?  There are many farming practices in these OECD countries that would be considered unacceptable or uneconomic to practise in NZ, like the housing of dairy herds all year and government subsidies.

Now let us look at the facts regarding dams.  Ever since our farmers confined farm animals in areas without permanent water, they have stored water in dams.  

First these dams were made by horse-drawn scoops.  Latterly, farmers with an experienced digger operator would assess the suitability of the dam location and analyse the catchment and soil type.  A plan would be constructed.  

These digger operators have created many farm dams and with their practical experience, need no input from an engineer.

As far as farm dams collapsing and the resulting safety factors, I cannot recall such an incident ever happening, not even during cyclones Bola and Gabrielle.  

These regulations seek to solves an imagined problem that has never existed.  However, it will ensure that farmers are further burdened with unnecessary costs, both in dollars and time.  

All these new regulations, beginning with the Resource Management Act, need to be reviewed by the new government to see if they meet the cost benefit criteria and to see how they work in practice.

Those those that deliver no benefits should be eliminated, and improvements introduced to those that are essential.  This would be a desirable goal for the new administration.

I have no problems with the Ministry officials who enforce these new laws.  They are honourable people charged with putting in motion the legislation passed by the government of the day, which may be a party seeking to control many aspects of human endeavour.

However, the downside of these seemingly endless regulations is not recognised.  The cost of this increasing number of bureaucrats and their regulations stokes inflation, which is a major factor in our cost of living problems and has a negative impact on morale, especially of those in the productive sector.

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