A matter of co-operation11 December 1998
A co-operative approach to dam safety is imperative in order to avoid dam failures. E C Kalkani* explains why
To achieve the safety standards necessary for dam operation, dam owners and operators must have dam safety programmes and effective warning systems. These must be backed up with the appropriate personnel and technical resources, and an adequate dam safety budget. They must also have authority for decision making.
Not all countries adopt regulatory laws for dam safety. They differ with regard to the authority for decision making, the budgets and the personnel assigned to project safety, while the procedures and the technology may be unavailable to many dam owners and operators.
Dams may be considered as being high or low hazard, and in fact most failures occur in low hazard dams. High hazard dams are in general under dam safety programmes whose aim is that, in the case of damage to the dam, fatalities and property loss will be minimised.
Dam safety programmes do not entirely rule out disasters and can only mitigate, and not remove, the after effects, nevertheless they are of enormous importance. As large civil engineering structures with many interacting materials, dams are susceptible to deterioration. Close monitoring and maintenance is imperative to avoid dam failure and the resultant property damage and loss of lives.
The main goals generally set by government agencies and state officials in dam safety refer to items such as:
•Exchanging information on the design and application of safety programmes.
•Developing inter-state or international co-operation.
•Providing expertise to government officials.
•Providing evidence for legal purposes.
•Improving dam safety programmes.
•Spreading public awareness of dam safety programmes and their implementation.
•Maintaining lines of communication between dam owners and operators, state agencies, the public and the private sector.
•Training state personnel in technical areas.
Additional goals may include: •Maintaining information on dam safety laws and regulations.
•Maintaining information on dam safety programmes, such as case histories.
•Producing technical documentation.
An early, important activity is to define the organisation’s strategic plan, setting the main goals and defining policies and procedures to achieve them. In the US, for example, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) has written a vision statement ‘To serve as the recognised leader in dam safety’ and a mission ‘To improve dam safety by the application of six goals’.
The ASDSO goals are:
•To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state dam safety programmes.
•To foster public awareness.
•To provide leadership through inter-organisational, inter-governmental and inter-state co-operation.
•To provide assistance to the dam safety community and a forum for the exchange of information.
•To represent dam safety interests before state legislatures and before Congress.
•To manage the Association effectively through internal policies and procedures.
One of the ASDSO’s current most-serious activities is the resolutions on the transferring of state owned dams to the private sector or local governments. A task group considers requirements for such transfers. For example: •Compilation of documentation showing that each dam is in a condition that meets or exceeds the state dam safety criteria prior to transfer.
•Assurance that the cost of state regulation will be available after the transfer of the dam.
•Requirement of a written approval for the transfer, as a contract signed by the state dam safety agency.
•Capability of the new owner to undertake the requisite financial and legal responsibilities.
ASDSO co-operates with several organisations on scientific and public interest on different issues. They include the US Committee on Large Dams, the National Performance of Dams Programme (see article, p30, this issue) and the American Society of Civil Engineers. On 5 March 1998 ASCE publicised its 1998 Report Card for US infrastructure, with an average grade D, on which dams were included. Joint activities and goals include:
•Participation in, and endorsement of, databases on dams.
•Collating information on the performance of dams and development of public awareness.
•Updating Model State Dam Safety Law.
•Collecting information on incidents.
•Writing guidelines for the decommissioning of dams and hydro power plants.
•Revising guidelines for dam inspection.
•Improving watershed and flood plains management.
•Establishing networking procedures for watershed operators and public representatives.
•Informing state officials and the public on the need for infrastructure improvement and financing.
•Highlighting differences between technical criteria included in law and various criteria used by state dam safety departments.
•Introducing dam safety courses in schools and universities.
•Assigning lecturers to present dam safety issues to schools and the public.
Communication, training and research
Communication between dam safety officials and state officials is imperative to improve dam safety and solve problems arising from procedures. In these meetings it is of great advantage if there is also participation by dam owners from the private sector, consulting engineers and representatives of public groups. For example, dam owners can be brought together with a team of trainers to learn how to organise and implement a comprehensive emergency action plan for each of their dams. Also, training of new instructors and trainers is involved.
As regards training, the appropriate subcommittee of the US Interagency Committee on Dam Safety (ICODS) has recommended to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) six regional technical seminars under the co-ordination of ASDSO. Special seminars may also be developed to focus on the ‘state of the art’ in a particular research area and develop new research needs.
Public awareness workshops bring together owners, operators, legislators, public representatives, group leaders and social workers with state personnel, to learn about dam safety programmes and exchange views and concerns.
In order to identify research needs, it is first necessary to have a comprehensive understanding of what has been done in the past and what needs exist. The two research areas funded by ICODS are: •The administration and ongoing research at the Centre for the Performance of Dams at Stanford University.
•The upgrading and updating of the bibliographic data base of ASDSO, to make it web searchable, and put all past proceedings papers in CD-ROM form.
Opportunities and needs
The issuing of the National Dam Safety Act (NDSA), signed into US law in October 1996, indicates the evidence of the importance of dam safety and the government concern for the public interest. Full funding for the programme specified in the Act of 1996 for fiscal year 1998 was granted in October 1997: this represents a significant achievement towards improving the safety of the dams in the USA.
If the act is to be fully implemented in the long term it will need the co-operation of organisations such as ICODS and ASDSO, and the affiliated organisations. The federal agencies represented in ICODS, for example, are the: •Federal Emergency Management Agency.
•US Army Corps of Engineers.
•Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
•Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.
•Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
•Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
•Tennessee Valley Authority.
•US Department of Labour, Mine Safety and Health Administration.
•US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
•US Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.
•US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.
•International Boundary and Water Commission.
•US Department of Energy.
ASDSO is also co-operating with and linked to the: •national-hydropower-association.
•Western States Water Council.
•National Co-ordinating Council on Emergency Management.
•Canadian Association for Dam Safety.
•American Water Resources Association.
FEMA has administrative authority over NDSA and is given the appropriate funding for its implementation. Subcommittees formed under the ICODS umbrella will develop plans and projects to carry out the Act. The subcommittees will make recommendations to the FEMA director who will make final decisions on implementation. The subcommittees cover: technical training; research; the National Inventory of Dams; and the national programme on dam safety co-ordination.
The NDSA funding is supposed to provide initial funding to states for:
•Creation and improvement of the dam safety programmes.
•Reviewing existing dam safety programmes.
•Performing research on dam safety.
•Providing technical training for dam inspectors.
•Feeding information into the database of the National Inventory of Dams.
A review of dam safety programmes may be organised for dams that belong to the public and the private sector. The teams of reviewers include individuals with long experience in the design, construction and operation of dams. Large reviews may last up to six months and include thorough investigation of all aspects of the dam safety programmes. The teams may include at least three people: a dam regulator, an owner and a consultant.
The reviews are confidential, and documents are reviewed and discussed with state officials. As an example, the ASDSO has contracted with the US Department of the Interior to perform peer reviews for six agencies — the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Office of Surface Mining.
The activities of the past few years and the great efforts made to co-ordinate actions on dam safety are of enormous benefit in achieving the following goals:
•Planning watershed infrastructures and designing their operation as a whole.
•Offering education and funding to enable operators to meet dam safety requirements.
•Securing funding for the operation, maintenance, refurbishment or decommissioning of existing dams.
•Applying updated engineering for design work for the maintenance, refurbish-ment, upgrading and decommissioning of dams.