Dams are an important part of green technology, playing a key role in transforming the power of water into renewable energy. Hydroelectricity makes up for over two-fourths of all renewable energy currently used, after all. Therefore, the efficiency and the safety of the dams that we rely on are paramount to our current energy paradigm. But are our dam operators and regulators doing everything that they can to make sure they’re running as they should be?
Here, we’re going to look at a few steps that can be taken to improve our dams.
Getting Educated on Your Responsibilities
If you are in the position of a dam owner or you’re a dam operator working directly under the dam owner, then it becomes important to know your responsibilities first and foremost. Becoming educated as to your responsibilities can help you identify action points that you might need to start working on right now. This includes knowing the proper operation of the dam, its maintenance practices, needs for rehabilitation, as well as emergency action planning. There’s a good chance you will need to find and hire qualified dam engineers to help you meet these needs, as well as auditors who can inspect your dam to make sure that it follows local and federal dam laws and regulations.
Know Your Risk Profile
There’s no such thing as a dam without risk. At some point during its construction, there will be issues caused by places where the original builders might have skimped on some costs, or not taken in the location as effectively as they should. Since the dam that you’re working with is not perfect, you have to know exactly how imperfect that it is. Creating a risk profile for the dam is a good way to get aware and preemptive about the faults and issues that might arise over time. This means being aware of earthquake hazard design (or lack thereof), where there might be a lack of needed repair, older design or lack of design for certain parts, as well as where the dam might not meet regulatory requirements.
Make Sure That You Have the Construction Documentation on Hand
You have to work with the dam that you have, not the dam that you wish that you have. As such, it’s important to know about the structural integrity of the dam by having access to the dam’s design and construction blueprint. These are huge structures that are often comprised of sections made with different materials. Given that each dam is different, it’s important that the people responsible for managing the dam have the blueprint and design documents on hand. This can help with creating the risk profile but is also crucial in making sure that no future decisions impact the structure and functionality of the dam.
Have the Right Information Always at Hand for the Team
When you’re working with a dam management team, it quickly becomes clear that the teams are going to change from the time of day to time of day, and from day to day. People are going to work in various shifts, meaning that you should never get complacent or assume that the people currently working on shift know everything that they should or know everything that their other co-workers would know. Training workshops for dam workers are essential, but everyone needs to be refreshed on their training from time to time. Having operations and safety naturals easily accessible allows team members to refresh on what they need to know when specific challenges are raised during their shift.
Ensure That You’re Working With the Best
Although the responsibility of the safety of the dam rests solely on the owner, in most cases, the owner (or operator, as the owner’s proxy) is not going to be handling the practical side of ensuring its safety entirely alone. You need someone with the technical skill to maintain safety at and around the dam. To that end, the proper operation, maintenance, rehabilitation, and repair of dams is more often going to fall to engineers. Hiring dam engineers is a responsibility that must be taken seriously, as you need to find someone licensed as a professional engineer and make sure that they have the experience of dam design, safety, construction, and maintenance, not to mention the ability to demonstrate the awareness of regulations and rules for dams in your state, as well as federally.
Get Data-Driven With It
Managing, repairing, and maintaining dams is fact of life for anyone who works with them. These are aging assets and, as such, they need a lot of attention. However, knowing where that attention should be going first and foremost can be a big challenge. With the help of a dam monitoring system, more dam operators are starting to get an AI-driven assistant that helps them pinpoint the dams, reservoirs, and areas that need their attention first, helping them prevent catastrophic dam failure by targeting their efforts where they are likely to be needed most. AI-driven monitoring systems are simply able to take in and work with many more data points than a human ever would, making them very useful when it comes to decision making.
Ensure That Any Incidents Are Recorded and Reported Effectively
It’s essential that an incident reporting system is put in place for the entire team that is working the dam. As a dam owner or operator, you must become aware of to whom you have to report any incidents, such as emergencies and shutdowns, be it operational or otherwise, based on your local regulation. You should also make sure that these incidents and recorded and reported internally. As such, the management team and workers will all be kept in the loop and be able to act on the latest information. It also makes it more likely that the right key players will be able to recommend the actions that can prevent these incidents from happening again in the future.
Working With a Model for the Surrounding Dam Infrastructure
When it comes to managing the integrity of the dam and how it is likely to operate in the events of floods or other incidents, then it’s a good idea to know not just about how your own dam works, but about how the entire river system works, including any upriver dams that will affect it. These should be treated as one system since each dam upriver of yours will affect the conditions that your dam faces. Operating all these linked dams together, or at least working in cooperation with whoever owns or operates them offers you a much better chance of mitigating disasters better, such as by running potential flood scenarios.
Getting Prepared for Floods
Aside from ensuring that you’re able to better secure your dam when they happen, flood forecasting is also essential for public safety and for helping the owners and managers of local infrastructure protect their own assets. As such, you may want to invest in flood forecasting systems that are able to provide detailed warnings of oncoming floods, allowing you to act on them in a timely manner and to inform whoever must be informed. The longer the time that local residents and infrastructure have to prepare against floods, the better their chances of preventing catastrophic and costly damage. The availability of good flood data depends largely on telemetered rainfall and streamflow data being available, as well.
Planning for Catchment
Adequate catchment preparation is essential if you want to be able to take any steps to reduce the risks of flooding. As such, you should work with the experts that can help you create flood inundation maps. This can help you get a better idea of what’s going to happen if any dams upstream fail and then lets you prepare the land and whatever planning controls you can put in place to minimize the amount of damage that the flood can cause when it comes into your territory. Take the time to create a catchment-based approach plan and to work out what controls and land preparation you can put in place to better prepare against the risk of flooding, should it hit your area.
Get Emergency Plans in Place
Emergencies such as floods, earthquakes, or structural failures within the dam, can happen. It’s important that your team has the right plans to act upon these risks when they happen. These are called dam safety emergency plans and they involve ensuring that you have emergency management procedures and dam safety documentation all in place. This way, when an emergency hits, you can quickly identify what members of the team should be taking what action and get them moving ASAP. An extra important part of this planning is flood evacuation and flood management, given the nature of the role dams play in floods.
Dam operators tend to have the decision-making roles that would allow them to enact the suggestions above but if you’re ever working on a project that involves dams, you can push to see if they’re meeting some of the standards raised above.