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Government backs amnesty over dam and reservoir leaks

CATASTROPHIC FLOOD risk from sudden dam and reservoir failure could be significantly reduced if a new 'near miss' confidential reporting scheme proposed this week gets the go ahead.

The government-backed reporting scheme would permit reservoir and dam owners to highlight leaks and bursts without fear of penalty and so allow a more accurate picture of the nation's dam stock to be formed.

Little is known publicly about the regularity of leaks from Britain's aging stock of dams and reservoirs, partly because owners are wary of making leak or burst data available for fear of creating panic in nearby villages and towns.

But reservoir engineers told NCE last week that as many as four dams and reservoirs could be at risk from bursting every year.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs commissioned consultant KBR this month to carry out a feasibility study to see if a database could be set up to store key information about UK reservoirs and details of past improvements.

But it is understood that this will also include a means of 'instantly reporting' failures, such as dam leaks or potential bursts, to help disseminate knowledge about causes of leaks. The database is likely to be accessed on the Environment Agency's website.

The spokeswoman added, 'There is a database at the moment which was formed by the BRE, but it's very basic. We want something that is more up to date.'

The water industry is also understood to be behind a confidential scheme, particularly as they fear that if the government or competitors found out they were experiencing dam leaks, their businesses could suffer or licences be revoked.

However the need for checks was highlighted in January this year. United Utilities' Upper Rivington Dam was discovered to be just a day away from bursting and flooding 55 homes.

Luckily a leak in a scour tunnel was discovered and repaired just in time (NCE 31 January 2002).

This incident has prompted Government to send a letter to dam and reservoir owners urging robust inspection regimes.

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