Magistrates and Magistrate Court Clerks are to be briefed on reservoir safety issues in the Environment Agency’s bid to get tough on reservoir owners, operators and users who do not stick to the regulatory rules.

Since the Environment Agency took over the job of ensuring the largest reservoirs in England and Wales function in accordance with the Reservoirs Act 1975 (the Act) in October 2004, non-compliance has been cut by more than two-thirds. However, a small minority of owners, operators and users (also known as undertakers) are failing to fulfil their duties and could now face prosecution.

Ian Hope, the Environment Agency’s Technical Manager for Reservoir Safety, said: “We have strived to achieve compliance in partnership with those we regulate but there is still work to do and we have to be tough on those who do not meet acceptable standards.”

The legislation, which applies to some 2000 reservoirs with a 25,000 m3-plus capacity, requires undertakers to:

• Appoint a supervising engineer to monitor and record the daily operation and maintenance of a reservoir
• Appoint an inspecting engineer to carry out periodic safety checks
• Appoint a construction engineer when a new reservoir is built or increased in size

Ian Hope continued: “Where undertakers do not carry out their responsibilities, we have put significant effort into warning, before serving notice. In the past two years, we have issued 99 enforcement notices and used our powers to make 13 panel engineer (specialist civil engineer) appointments.

“In most cases serving notice has prompted action. However, where it has not we are now beginning to pursue prosecution and we need the courts to understand the consequences of not having safe practices on large reservoirs. While the risk of flooding from reservoirs in England and Wales is very low, we want to keep it that way. That is why we want to see skilled engineers appointed to ensure dams are being properly maintained.”

The information pack, which explains the Act, how the Environment Agency carries out its enforcement role and the reasons for regulating the reservoir industry, will be included in the Environment Agency’s training package for lawyers from this month (March).

When the Environment Agency took up the enforcement role, more than 200 reservoirs had no recorded owner, 379 no supervising engineer, 336 had an inspection overdue and 269 had no recorded last inspection date. A total 103 reservoirs also had vital safety work outstanding, but this has since been completed.

All reservoirs also now have a recorded owner following the creation of a comprehensive register of undertakers, which is available to the public.   
The latest figures, collated in February, also reveal that there are now just 16 reservoirs with no recorded supervising engineer and 13 overdue inspections with no inspecting engineer appointed.

The Environment Agency is also looking at other ways to improve the safety of our reservoirs by:
• Assessing if any of the 310 currently unregistered reservoirs recently identified should be subject to the Act
• Working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Welsh Assembly Government to develop a system of Post-Incident Reporting to help the industry learn from ‘near-miss’ incidents at reservoirs
• Leading by example by including contingencies for a dam failure in the emergency plans for the 160 reservoirs used for flood storage that it operates. The Water Act 2003 identified the need for Reservoir Flood Plans and they are expected to become a legal requirement by spring 2008
• Working with the reservoir industry on a review of the 1975 Act which, in part, will consider whether high-risk reservoirs below the 25,000m3 threshold should be subject to the Act.

For further information on the Environment Agency’s role on reservoir safety visit