B.C. mudslide blamed on inspector shortage
A shortage of provincial dam inspectors is being blamed for the recent mudslide in Oliver, B.C. that destroyed a half-dozen homes and several farms.
The mudslide came crashing down on Sunday after an irrigation reservoir high in the mountains spilled over and eroded the earthen embankments, according to officials.
Public Safety Minister Mike de Jong has said the province routinely inspects about 2,000 dams in British Columbia and has launched a review of those dams after the recent mudslide.
But Mark Angelo, chair of the Rivers Institute at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, said there are just 10 inspectors for the entire province and the Oliver mudslide shows that is not enough.
"Looking at what happened in Oliver, clearly there was not enough maintenance being done and not enough audits being conducted, so obviously it highlights the need to improve in all of those areas," said Angelo.
According to provincial guidelines, larger dams and those presenting a greater risk if they fail need to be inspected every five years. Smaller dams and those presenting less risk need to be inspected every 10 years.
But Angelo questions whether the audits are getting done.
"With limited resources, I think dam audits, it's been tough to complete all of those, and some have fallen through the cracks. And I think the dam that failed in Oliver is a good example of that."
The inspections only started in 2003 when the new regulations were brought in, so there could be dams that have never been looked at by inspectors, Angelo said.
Responsibility still unclear
The deputy minister of public safety is currently conducting a review of the Oliver slide to determine who was responsible for the failure of the dam.
The Ministry of Forests and Land has confirmed it was warned about a possible breach of the dam on Friday by a report from a hiker, but said the report did not characterize the situation as an emergency.
But de Jong says the primary responsibility for the safety of the dams still rests with those who operate them.
"The licencees and or landowners have primary responsibility under the terms of water licences that are issued. But there are officials across the province out there, ensuring that these waterworks are safe," he said.
A local rancher who is the water rights holder for the area has told CBC News that provincial agencies were responsible for the dam's upkeep.