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Tapping the skills reservoir

RESERVOIRS DO NOT fail very often, but if they do they tend to cause catastrophic damage.

Because of that risk, the engineers responsible for them are unique in the UK in that they must have what is in effect a licence to practise. That licence consists of membership of a panel of engineers qualified to carry out design and supervision of reservoirs.

Appointments to a panel are made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport & the Regions but responsibility for vetting engineers is devolved to the ICE and its reservoirs committee. In effect the arrangement is a long standing piece of privatisation in which the ICE is reimbursed the costs of its work by the government.

Panel engineers all have an individual responsibility in a statutory sense, emphasises Rod Bridle of Montgomery Watson, one of the select team of engineers on the reservoirs committee who have to make judgments on whether their peers are fit to be in charge of reservoir works.

The reservoirs committee is a heavyweight group. Chaired by the incumbent ICE President, it includes the immediate past president and senior vice president but is one of those activities of the Institution which seem to quietly continue out of sight of most members.

As a safety measure for dams the arrangement of strictly controlling the engineers allowed to be responsible for them appears to be extremely effective.

Loss of lives as a result of two dam failures in 1925 at Skelmorlie, where five died, and Coedty, which took 16, prompted the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act of 1930. Supervision was again tightened up with the Reservoirs Act 1975 which made further provision against escapes of water from large reservoirs or from lakes or lochs artificially created or enlarged.

Large reservoirs are described as those holding more than 25,000m3. No-one has died

in a dam failure since 1925. However there have been some catastrophic collapses demonstrating that total security is elusive.

Appointment as a panel engineer does not automatically allow an individual to carry out any work on any dam. The licence is very specific with four well defined subdivisions.

All Reservoirs Panel (60 engineers) can design and supervise construction and alteration of any reservoir.

Non-Impounding Reservoirs Panel (8) can act in the same way on a reservoir which does not obstruct or impede a watercourse ie storm inflows do not have to be catered for.

Service Reservoirs Panel (23) can act on non impounding reservoirs made in brickwork, masonry, or concrete typically large storage tanks.

Supervising Panel (268) are civil engineers qualified to act as supervising engineers typically working for reservoir owners and responsible for regular routine, as opposed to major, inspection work.

Mike Winney

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