‘I think it’s a question of raising the profile, improving what we do already, finding more things to do, pushing ourselves out into the regions and encouraging a wider membership.’ This was the answer given by Andy Hughes, current chairman of the British Dam Society (BDS) and director of water engineering and dams at consulting firm Halliburton KBR, when I asked him what he hoped to achieve during his chairmanship. Although these may seem ambitious aims, after talking to Hughes about some of the latest developments in the society, it becomes clear that the BDS membership is prepared to work hard to help meet them.

Formed in 1967, as an associate society of the UK’s Institution of Civil Engineers, the BDS consists of individual and corporate members and is open to anyone wanting to share experience or knowledge of all aspects of dams and reservoirs. Governed by a main committee consisting of elected and nominated members, the society was developed to advance education of the public and the profession in technical subjects relating to planning, design, construction, maintenance, operation, safety, environmental and social issues.

Hughes became the latest BDS chairman in 2001 after a two-year term as vice president. His varied career history allowed him to gain experience in all aspects of the hydro industry, making him an ideal candidate for chairmanship.

With a BSc and a PhD associated with dam engineering, Hughes began his career as a geotechnical engineer, later becoming more involved in dams and floods.

‘I’ve always been interested in dams, ever since my first degree,’ he claims. ‘My PhD was centred around dams and I was determined once I left university to stay in this area.’

Following his studies, Hughes joined North West Water (NWW) in 1978 as a young unchartered engineer. After gaining experience on the company’s dams, he was given responsibility for reservoir safety, which involved areas such as safety inspections, remedial works, working with new dams and also looking after a stock of old dams.

‘I did this for a few years,’ he adds, ‘but then I realised I was becoming a very narrow technical specialist. The people who were moving up the ladder in North West Water were those with managerial skills.’

As a result, he undertook a management degree, sponsored by the company. After completion, he was made a group manager, responsible for the water supply into the east side of Manchester, UK.

After a few years as group manager, Hughes decided he wanted to become a panel engineer. At the age of 35, he applied for panel status. ‘Initially I was turned down,’ he remembers. ‘I was told I had to get new dam experience, which I obviously wasn’t going to get at North West Water.’

‘At this stage, however, a number of consultants had heard about my situation, and offered me positions to work on new dams,’ he adds.

The position Hughes accepted was with Rofe, Kennard & Lapworth, which allowed him the opportunity in 1989 to travel to Cyprus and work as chief resident engineer on a scheme involving a rockfill dam with an upstream membrane. He spent three years working on this scheme before returning to the UK and becoming a partner in the company in 1992.

Over the following years, he developed the business in association with Arup, which led to the company merging with Arup in 1998, and Hughes becoming head of Arup’s water business. He remained at Arup until taking up his new position at Halliburton as director of water engineering and dams in November 2001.

All change

This ever-growing interest in dams led Hughes to the BDS, which he joined as a student in 1973. In the mid 1980s, he became the BDS regional representative in Manchester, where he helped organise the society’s successful conference in Manchester in 1998. He was then selected as vice chairman three years ago, and chairman in March 2001.

Through his chairmanship, Hughes has initiated a number of changes in the BDS. ‘My main aim was to raise the profile of the BDS and dam engineering as a whole.

‘When I became vice chairman, we developed a strategy committee to decide the way forward for the society,’ he says. ‘We wrote a strategy document which was presented at the annual general meeting in March last year as I took over as chairman, and it is that strategy which is currently being implemented.

‘We’ve looked into what we were offering our membership in the regions,’ he continues. ‘We have made tremendous moves forward in this area as far as I’m concerned. We now have very lively regional meeting programmes in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Bradford, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Exeter. We’re pushing our meetings out because they offer a perfect opportunity to interact with our members.’

The opportunity for more communication with members was one of the reasons behind another important development within the BDS – the commissioning of a website.

‘I wanted to let more people know about the BDS, but how do we do that? How do we tell people if they want to know about dams to come to the BDS and its members? I believe the way to do this is through the website,’ he says.

‘The site is up and running in part and is getting better by the day. It provides information about BDS meetings, events, news, research, and allows users the chance to exchange ideas.

‘We’ve had a huge number of hits already, and interest has come not only from the UK but from the rest of the world,’ he adds.

A major element of the website currently being developed in association with Bristol University is a package for children and schools.

‘We’re thinking of undertaking a pilot study with schools in the Bristol area where we get children involved in a simple dam project,’ he says. ‘This could be a simple poster competition or even a challenge to build a small scale dam and show that it holds water.’

The society is also hoping to generate interests in dams amongst other young people.

‘We offer reduced membership costs for young people and have started some social events and site visits,’ he says. ‘We’ve also put some money aside to sponsor a student to go overseas during their summer holidays to work on a dam project. This project is still in its infancy and we need to seek interest. I don’t think we’ll have a problem here though because it is a marvellous opportunity.’

A further development within the BDS, claims Hughes, is the continued improvement of the society’s publication Dams and Reservoirs, which is published three times a year. Designed to inform and support the BDS membership on international issues and practice concerning dams and reservoirs, the publication is an important element of the BDS. ‘This is now a very high quality publication,’ he says. ‘If you look back to where it started in the 1970s to where it is now, you can see that we’ve invested a lot of money in improving the quality.’

The society has also initiated a number of prizes, one of which is now called the Bateman prize after an eminent engineer who built a number of dams in the Manchester area.

‘The Bateman Prize is awarded to the BDS member or members who have written the best technical paper in the year,’ he explains. ‘This is a way of recognising the BDS membership and also to improve the quality of published papers, all of which are refereed by a sub-committee.’

The society has also increased alliance with the Department of Food, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) over the past year. ‘We are now helping to influence research into reservoirs by using our membership to feed ideas into research and to prioritise research that DEFRA or others may fund.’

Future developments

With such developments already in the pipeline, what other changes does Hughes hope for the next year of his chairmanship? ‘We want to try and encourage a wider membership so we get environmentalists and others who would perhaps not think of themselves as possible BDS members, but can influence dams projects,’ he says.

‘We’ve got to work more with environmentalists,’ he continues. ‘We’ve got to embrace these people and we’ve got to work with them, because there are obviously going to be people who object to dams.

‘We believe dams are going to be necessary in the future so one has to work in a positive way to address the criticism of those who are acting against you.’

Hughes suggests one of the best ways to achieve this is through effective communication.

‘We’ve got to communicate with people and we’ve got to communicate sensibly,’ he says. ‘We have to look at other groups’ problems and aspirations and work together. We have to promote dams in the right way and we have to talk to environmentalists, assist them and find ways of mitigating the losses and damages caused.’

An important part of effective communication is through PR and consultation.

‘The trouble with PR is that engineers are now often too busy to promote their work, there is often slim organisation and lack of resources,’ he suggests. ‘Our website will help with promotion in a big way. It is being professionally built and will be maintained by our members. I believe it will be one of the key elements of success for the BDS in the future.’

Hughes is keen to point out that these developments would not be possible without the help of the BDS membership. ‘This is a group exercise, people have put a lot of effort in. It’s a wonderful example of a committee really pulling out the stops and changing the society. We have achieved a great deal.’
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