Sue Pritchard, Former Editor and Current Contributing Editor

Sue Pritchard

My editorship of IWP&DC sounds quite impressive as it spanned two centuries, from the 1990s to the early 2000s, and I’m proud to still be associated with the magazine as it celebrates its 75th anniversary issue. Upon reflection I realise that the waterpower and dam industry isn’t the only thing that has evolved, and often struggle to believe that this young journalist from 27 years ago has been married for decades with two grown up daughters!

The way we’ve worked on the magazine has also transitioned through some remarkable advances. Fax machines, snail mail and trusty telephones were our main modes of communication when sourcing the first articles I dealt with. Then along came floppy discs and CD-ROMs before the advent of emails and the internet – where we’d all cram around one computer, marvelling at the multitude of information we could access after waiting patiently for that noisy modem to dial up. And now in the 21st century, articles within the pages of the magazine focus on artificial intelligence, the internet of things, remote controls, and problems such as cyber security.

‘Are you ready for Y2K?’ was one headline-grabbing article that sticks in my mind from 1999. The hydro industry was working hard to prepare for the possibility that the millennium bug could bring generators to a halt and cause dam safety concerns worldwide. Although industry members told us that nothing was being overlooked, many believed the severity of the apocalyptic picture that had been drawn was overexaggerated. In the end, after more than US$308 billion was spent globally dealing with the problem, the Y2K bug didn’t materialise on 1 January 2000, and this is how it’s hoped the current Y2Q problem will pan out. Here the integrity of algorithms which protect against potential cyber-attacks are under scrutiny, and could impact services and infrastructure if compromised.

Stakeholder involvement and public acceptance were key buzz words when I started on the magazine. The anti-dam movement had gained great momentum and there were regular heated demonstrations against project development, with minimal communication between the different sides. I was struck by an engineer’s comment one day. He said his profession had quite a simplistic view of life and couldn’t understand why their projects weren’t always embraced by the public. All we want to do, he said, is help people and improve their lives with greater access to water and power.

So I followed the development of the World Commission on Dams with much interest when it was launched in 1998. Pondering upon the release of the final report two years later, it was unclear if it would become a milestone or a millstone around the industry’s neck. Although there was much debate about the commission and its findings, with even a call for a moratorium on all large dams at one point, it did help to pave the way forward for the industry. With sustainable and equitable development at the forefront of its mind now, thanks to the efforts of organisations such as the International Hydropower Association, the industry has taken great strides towards improving education and fostering more effective communication with all stakeholders. And I do believe the World Commission on Dams was instrumental in instigating such a mindset shift.

As Ron Corso from the US Committee on Large Dams told me in April1999: “If we sit back and assume people will get information on their own…there is a good chance that the public will not hear the whole story. We therefore need to be more proactive and provide people with a more balanced view of dams.”

Although there have been great advances, one thing that strikes me about my time on the magazine is that many issues are still, unfortunately, newsworthy. For example in May 1999, when writing about the tailings dam failure at Spain’s Los Frailes mine, under the headline of ‘Failing Again’, I queried why so many incidents were still occurring worldwide. And 25 years later we’re asking the same question.

One of my proudest articles was in 2001. I interviewed the manager of the UK’s largest flood relief scheme which has played a vital role in taming the River Medway in the southeast of England. This river runs through my old hometown and after experiencing what locals call ‘The Great Flood of 1968’, the Leigh flood barrier was constructed to protect it. To this day the barrier continues to play an important role in alleviating floods, and after hearing my older family members’ stories about the devastating impact flooding can have, it has given me a greater appreciation of the varied and important functions our industry undertakes.

Looking to the future, although it has been viewed as the ‘old man’ or ‘forgotten giant’ of the power industry in the past, hydropower is working hard to ensure its role within the clean energy transition is fully understood and supported. And even with its seniority, just like the waterpower and dams industry, IWP&DC is also proving that it still has many years left in it yet.

Patrick Reynolds, Former Acting Editor and Contributor

I grew up in Scotland, where water is plentiful. Near home were hills with peaks above the snow line in winter and they also held a wonderful long reservoir, and dam. A fantastic sight, whatever the season. I learned that engineering could copy nature’s ways, in holding water and letting flows run – continuously. Powerfully. I learned, too, of water used similarly but to generate hydropower in many power plants across the Highlands of Scotland, built – as was then – in recent decades. Exciting, indeed.

Looking to university, I found myself choosing between civil and electrical engineering. The former won out as I could see what was made, up in the hills. In my studies I first found that hydropower could be built to tap potential on many scales, and in reading and referencing, I found IWP&DC in the university library. Hours and hours of reading. Especially as textbooks on hydropower were few and far between to bring together hydraulics, rivers and channels, geotechnics and groundwater, and at times tunnels and caverns, and always generators and governors, and transformers. Civil and electrical engineering, together. Water, rock, and society.

Studying civil engineering also brought me more awareness of the importance of water supplies to public health. Dams and reservoirs again. In addition, such engineering creations could serve food supply through irrigation projects. Multipurpose uses and value to communities in so many ways.

After writing a thesis on hydropower, by graduation I had become aware that hydropower development had stopped in the UK. I had no contacts or workable routes, then, to work with such projects overseas or those owning, designing or building them. Later, I found a wonderful, exciting shift was possible, if markedly uncommon, to move from engineering into journalism – and to specialise in covering civil engineering. In reporting on a variety of projects, I again learned more about dams, hydropower and irrigation, and multipurpose projects across the world.

Subsequently, an opportunity arose to join a new editorial team being formed on IWP&DC, approaching the mid-90’s. In doing so, I had the chance to dive deep and long into more of the technical aspects of projects and power plants, including appreciation of operations and maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrades, seismic risk, dam leakage repairs, and tunnelling for headrace, tailraces, surge shafts, and powerhouse caverns. With the retirement on the horizon of greater numbers of those who built dams and hydro projects in peak building periods, I became aware of concerns about knowledge transfer and the huge challenge presented in legacy understanding, communications, and simply passing on – holding onto – knowledge.

Then, it the energy industry was changing, too, as privatisation and cheap alternatives rolled out across the world, chiefly in gas-fired power plants. More appreciation for how hydro can compete in the mix was needed, and of marginal costs, and funding possibilities. The challenge was even more complex to evaluate for multipurpose projects. Civil engineering structures were needed more and cost more compared to the new, fast response alternatives. The understanding of hydro, and dams and reservoirs, having relatively low long-term operating costs was no sufficient in the new business and funding landscape. Looking at business and economics became very interesting. Weighting for societal good and then, later, carbon credits were further interesting developments in how multilateral and project finance, and indeed export credits, and more, might interplay.

Interestingly, the complexities of the ever growing power grids, and the need for both base load and fast response power plants, and also the requirement for the entire web to be dynamically stabile, opened a new door of opportunity for one part of hydropower in particular: pumped storage. This has only increased with time, even as such developments call for notable civil engineering investment, such as in tunnels and caverns.

More visible are dams and barrages, coming in a variety of designs and sizes. They hold a beauty, offering even the possibility of some favourites, as people may consider bridges. With IWP&DC, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn of so many, and even visit some, far from home. But what first caught my eye, and heart, was close to home. I had no idea my studies would open the door to the world-leading journal, and then to subsequently join its ranks – twice: first time in the mid 90s – after an interlude seeing wider construction internationally, and the oil & gas and chemicals sectors, and how infrastructure investment choices work there too – there came again an opportunity to report, with Carrieann, about 15 years ago.

As I currently edit a sister magazine of IWP&DC – Tunnels and Tunnelling International. Of course, hydropower and pumped storage come up. How could they not? They always hold a fascination, in their technical aspects as well as their business, finance, and economic dimensions, and many other challenges in today’s world.