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Dam sure the Flood & Water Management Bill won't fail

I refer to your article ‘Caution over new reservoir inspection plan’ (NCE 30 April). During my interview I never suggested that “the plan could fail’ as suggested in your article.

I and a number of others including the Environment Agency have worked hard with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to bring about changes to the Act. This is because the Reservoirs Act 1975 is based on retained volume only and not on consequence of failure or risk.

The proposals are designed to enable us to include reservoirs in the regulatory regime which pose a threat to life whatever their capacity.

It is going to be difficult and time consuming to find owners who do not volunteer information on their reservoirs. It didn’t happen with the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act 1930 and Reservoirs Act 1975 but in recent years the Environment Agency as enforcement authority has been very successful in finding over 100 reservoirs which should have been registered under the Reservoirs Act 1975.

It is likely that a similar exercise will be required to find some of the smaller reservoirs which will be subject to any new Act.

The draft Flood & Water Management Bill has now been published and the profession and all concerned are being asked for their comments on the suggestions. I am sure there will need to be changes, but the basic framework being proposed is essentially the same as the Reservoirs Act 1975.

The main difference will be the stock of dams to which any Act will apply. The proposed changes will result in improvements in reservoir safety in the UK.

Thus, I would like to state categorically that the plan will not fail. It might take considerable effort but it will not fail.

  • Andy Hughes, director of dams and reservoir engineering, Atkins,, Halcrow Group, Swindon SN4 0QD


Your news item on the new reservoir safety legislation proposed as part of the Floods & Water Management Bill (NCE 30 April) is a little misleading.

With modern GIS methods, coupled with experience, it is quite easy to identify the majority of reservoir sites that are likely to have more than 10,000m3 of water raised above natural ground.

Halcrow has already completed work to this end and this should give the Environment Agency a good head start in identifying any reservoir owners who choose not to register their reservoirs under the proposed legislation.

Small reservoirs can pose a threat to life under certain circumstances and engineers should note that there have been many “near-miss” incidents at non-statutory reservoirs of less than 25,000m3 capacity in recent years. This is one of the key drivers for the new legislation.

I believe that having an extended register of reservoir owners will help to disseminate guidance on reservoir operation, monitoring and maintenance, and this should bring wider reservoir safety benefits.

  • Alan Warren (F),, Halcrow Group, Swindon SN4 0QD


Money was no barrier when it came to the Thames

It is excellent that NCE is celebrating the 25th birthday of the great civil engineering achievement of the Thames Barrier.

RW Horner (F) was the driving force behind what turned out to be the last major project of the Greater London Council.

He was not only a good practical civil engineer, but also a wily character who took a quiet pride in expertly outwitting the project appraisal economists in the civil service. Engineers of today could learn a good deal from his approaches.

I was fortunate to visit Horner in the planning stages of the barrier, as I was then making feasibility studies for smaller but similar schemes for the Yorkshire River Authority. I had the temerity to query his costbenefit analysis.

At about that time, HM Treasury changed its test discount rate from 5% to 10% and back again to 8%. That’s an error range of 100% − so we knew they didn’t really know what the heck they were talking about.

So, when I spotted Horner’s unrealistic assumption that the whole of central London would be flooded during a surge tide period we both rightly thought that we were acting in public interest by being “economical with the truth” and that the economists would not spot or understand the issue.

Happily, this turned out to be true and 25 years later, aren’t we glad we’ve got the barrier.

Incidentally, Horner continued leading groups of visitors round his barrier well into his retirement - a very dedicated, but inadequately recognised civil engineer, who knew about practical politics as well as engineering design and construction.

  • John Thackray. (F)


What’s in a name?

I read the interesting article on Ken Dalton (NCE last week) with a little sadness on hearing that the name Faber Maunsell has now ceased to exist.

I was taken on as a trainee engineer by GMaunsell & Partners in 1956 when the firm had just been formed by Guy Maunsell after breaking away from Maunsell, Posford & Pavry. The firm was then so small that the entire staff could fit into one of the rooms in the not so large flat in Cleveland Row, south west London, which was the office.

In fact I was employed on the clear understanding that as the future was uncertain, if necessary it would be a case of last in first out! That fortunately never arose and I left of my own choice 10 years later.

GMaunsell & Partners certainly looked after its staff and its training policy, in those pre-CAD days, was that every engineer had to be able to draw with pen and ink. I remain eternally grateful to those wise old engineers as this part of my training stood me in good stead many years afterwards, especially when working overseas.

I find it ironic that the American Aecom took over Faber Maunsell as some of the older Maunsell engineers had narrow-mindedly ridiculed me when I joined the American Society of Civil Engineers shortly after becoming AMICE. They resorted to greenish leg pulling after I joined a New York firm of consultants, with whom I stayed for 17 years.

  • Fredrick Rawson,


Ploughing on

Your correspondent, (Letters last week) asks that “we use our language correctly” in connection with the current vogue for using the term “harvesting rainwater”.

He could not be more wrong − the verb harvest is perfectly used in this context, to harvest, lay-up or husband is exactly what the phrase is intended to mean.

I am all for “using our language correctly” but in this case we are! Keep harvesting.

  • Denis Geeson (M), 9 Sherwood, Herne Road, Surbiton KT6 5BU


Credit where it is due

The article on the Thames Barrier (NCE last week) says “the engineers behind it used great foresight and paid great attention to detail”.

The “History” panel named the main contractor but nowhere in the article are the designers, Rendel, Palmer and Tritton mentioned. This in my view is a serious omission.

  • MB Constable (M),


When the lights go out

I was intrigued by your report that EdF will switch its resources to the UK from its Flammanville 3 nuclear reactor construction site in France in 2012 (NCE 30 April).

The first problem is that the Finnish European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) plant will not be finished then and Flammanville is already experiencing the same sort of delays as Olkiluoto.

The second problem is that EdF has to build 20 EPRs in the next 10 years to replace half of its nukes that will have timed out by then. Then to build an EPR in the UK in five years, when it has taken 10 years to build the EPR in Finland, is somewhat optimistic.

In any case some of the lights will be going out in overdependent on nuclear France as uranium supplies are running down fast.

EdF has previously stated that due to a shortage of world ability to make the nuclear parts, it will first build gas stations in the UK.

My view is that the nuclear renaissance will be aborted.

  • John Busby, “Oakwood” Melford Road, Lawshall, Bury St Edmunds IP29 4PY


Facts & figures

There has been a lot of talk recently about carbon capture and storage (CCS) but very few facts. This is not surprising since no one has actually built and run a large plant.

Estimates, however, would be informative. For a start, could someone give us all an estimate of the overall system efficiency of a typical plant?

The total energy used (excluding the energy used in construction) involves mining the coal, transporting the coal, useful energy produced, waste heat in the cooling water, CO2 capture, liquifying the CO2, transporting the liquid CO2 to the site of injection and pumping the CO2 into the bedrock.

Out of the total energy used, what percentage ends up useful and usable? I suspect that it is not very much but would be delighted to be enlightened.

  • John Clark, 7 High Street, Biddenden TN27 8AL


NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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