Quebec commissioner disappointed by lack of dam safety efforts


A June 2015 report released by the Quebec Commissioner of Sustainable Development, M. Jean Cinq-Mars, said, “The Environment Department has not done its work to ensure that the province’s dams are safe.”

Cinq-Mars said the department is still missing inspection reports from about a quarter of the 5,900 dams that are targeted by inspection law. About half of the dams are used for recreation purposes, while most of the others are used for the production of hydroelectricity.

There are 758 dams behind in inspections and maintenance, which are the responsibility of the department, the report concluded.

Cinq-Mars was appointed Québec’s Sustainable Development Commissioner in September 2009. Before holding this position, he served as a consultant in the sustainable development, environment, natural resources and governance fields. He has carried out missions abroad, notably for the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and various development agencies.

“As it stands now, there could be some dams that will break,” said Cinq-Mars during a news conference after the report’s release. “If you live near one, make sure you ask local authorities that the dam is in a good enough condition to handle spring thaw conditions.”

Local reports indicate the commissioner made his determination in light of a 2002 law enacted in Quebec after the Saguenay floods in the summer of 1996 and findings from the floods subsequent investigative reports.

The Saguenay floods resulted when two reservoirs in the region of the Saguenay River Fjord overflowed during a sustained downpour and unleashed an estimated four times the normal amount of water flow into area rivers and streams.

Eleven people were killed, more than 16,000 were evacuated and 7,000 families suffered a total of more than C$1.5 billion in property damage.

The Nicolet Commission on the Saguenay Floods, staffed by several people that included members of the Order of Engineers of Quebec, determined there were many causes of the flood and found that there was poor co-ordination and management of the 2,000 dams in the area. The commission also stressed that ties between government authorities, communities and experts would benefit from extensive improvement and developing an emergency action plan.

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