Changing times in the dam industry

Those working in the dam industry in the UK are going through a period of change following the Toddbrook Reservoir Incident in 2019 and the subsequent changes in legislation.

In August 2019 heavy rainfall in Derbyshire caused the spillway at Toddbrook Reservoir to fail. The immediate concern was the safety of the residents and visitors to the town so as a precaution some 1500 people were temporarily evacuated from their homes and businesses in Whaley Bridge, whilst an immediate drawdown of the water level was instigated, together with urgent measures to shore up and stabilise the spillway. Incidents like Toddbrook are very rare, but it is important that lessons are learned and shared widely to help the dedicated professionals who manage and maintain our reservoirs in securing the ongoing safety of these structures. To ensure we are able to take account of what lessons can be taken from this event, the Government asked Professor David Balmforth to lead the independent review to explore how the damage occurred and make recommendations for our whole reservoir community to adopt. The findings were published in February 2020: Toddbrook Reservoir Independent Review Report (Part A). Guidance documents relating to Part A, which focused on lessons arising from the Toddbrook incident are likely to be issued from the end of this year onwards.

Part B of the review, the Independent Reservoir Safety Review Report, was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2020 and published on 13 May 2021. This report focused on the implementation and suitability of the reservoir safety arrangements across the sector. On 16 September 2021 Professor Balmforth briefed The British Dam Society Supervising Engineers’ Forum at the University of Nottingham about his recommendations.

Balmforth expanded on his initial recommendations at The British Dam Society talk at the Institution of Civil Engineers on 4 October focusing on a comprehensive assessment of the current safety regime in England, along with recommendations for improving the reservoir safety regime and strengthening the roles and responsibilities for the regulator, reservoir owners and engineers.

Our Binnies reservoir team is directly involved in producing guidance documents following Part A of the Balmforth review.  We are involved in working groups and authoring documents for spillway design; including a guide for owners and operators; spillway examination guidance; guidance for inspection engineers; and supervising engineers’ guidance. Binnies is also on steering groups for key industry guidance, including the latest CIRIA guides.

In addition, each country that makes up the UK now has its own legislation (England and Wales have the same but with different elements enacted) and are making changes at different rates. Wales has already enacted the lowering of capacity for registered reservoirs to 10,000 m3 and is now substantially into the implementation stage, something we can all learn lessons from. However, when England chooses to lower the threshold, how do we ensure there will not be a resource issue with the number of All Reservoirs (AR) and Supervising Engineers (SE)?

We are already experiencing a generational shift through many eminent and experienced engineers retiring. We all need to increase our efforts to support and bring people into the industry and to work as a collective. Binnies has a comprehensive succession plan for both ARs and SEs with healthy numbers and a steady stream coming through to provide resilience for the future. We work directly with The British Dam Society committee to help develop and maintain the number of panel engineers, and provide support, encouragement and mentoring to professionals wishing to develop a career in the industry.

Reservoirs have always been important to our communities for providing our water supplies and are particularly sensitive topics in various parts of the world where lakes are shrinking due to increasing temperatures and putting a strain on water resources or increasing tensions between countries. However, we are now also realising that reservoirs can also be considered areas of outstanding natural beauty that people choose to visit for recreational purposes. Visitor numbers to open reservoirs in the UK have increased dramatically and have further highlighted the need for safety campaigns around risks to the general public.

We are having to respond more frequently to emergency dam-related incidents caused by climate change such as the flooding in Germany and Belgium with their dramatic pictures of scour damage and tragic loss of life, and the flooding experienced in China. Our dams are designed to meet large flash flooding events, but multiple storms in short periods pose particular challenges that we must be ready and trained to respond to.

Technology is now supplementing traditional visual inspections and is challenging the effectiveness of how we monitor our dams. We now have access to satellite data and artificial intelligence and we have responded by developing products such as Binnies’ Intelligent Dam Monitoring System (iDMS) and RSK’s GroundSat tool. We are thrilled to announce that Binnies and Rezatec won the ‘Digital Innovator Award’ at the 2021 Asset Management Excellence Awards for our iDMS product. There is no question that we are living in a world that is changing rapidly. Although there are many challenges, it is also a great opportunity for civil engineers and others to make a difference in an industry that is important for us all. Dams are an aging infrastructure and many dams in the UK are over 100 years old. We must offer our clients the benefit of our legislative understanding, improved access to data through new technologies, and our commitment to developing the next generation of panel engineers so that the safety of our communities is assured.

Matt has recently been appointed as Reservoir Delivery Director at Binnies, as Project Director for reservoir design projects. He has extensive experience across a variety of reservoir schemes, water treatment works, flood alleviation and sewage treatment works. He undertakes a wide range of projects for clients including Natural Resources Wales, the Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency.

About Binnies

At Binnies, we create new possibilities for humanity through our innovative approach to delivery. Backed by a culture that has stayed true since our founding over 100 years ago, Binnies develops intelligent water and environmental solutions using a whole lifecycle approach to deliver functional infrastructure and lasting environmental and social legacies. We strive to continue to elevate the quality of life for our local communities today and for generations to come.

Binnies is an RSK Group Company and was formerly part of Black & Veatch.

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About the RSK Group (RSK)

RSK is a leading, integrated, environmental, engineering and technical services group comprised of over 100 businesses.   The group is headquartered in the United Kingdom and has an established presence in more than 40 countries around the world.

For over 30 years, RSK has been helping organisations realise their business goals efficiently, cost-effectively and with the minimum environmental and social impact. We deliver practical solutions to some of the greatest challenges of our time. As a client-focused business, our services are constantly evolving to directly respond to or pre-empt global conditions and legislative drivers.

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Media contacts

Binnies UK

Angela Collins Tel: +44 (0)1737 856399 | Mobile: +44 (0)7391 639733 | Email: collinsa@binnies.com