Viewpoint: Dams and Hydropower Endure … Yet, the Right People Are Needed!

Dams and hydropower facilities are almost uniquely enduring … in a world too often focused on the “next quarter” (or, perhaps, the next election). Many beneficial facilities exceed 50 — and some 100 — years of age.

While such facilities can seem ageless, the people who tend to them are not. In fact, multiple generations of educated, trained, and experienced individuals are required to care for these facilities. As things continually change, it’s important that personnel needs not be minimized. It must remain a top priority to do what’s necessary to ensure that people are available and well-trained to provide needed stewardship.

Large dams have been built to harness water resources for electricity production to serve ever-growing demands and also to provide other benefits — sometimes more important. These include water storage for agricultural irrigation, water supply, flood protection, navigation, and recreation. Worldwide, numerous large dam developments are being pursued today.

Past and current development did not “just happen.” Knowledgeable, creative, committed, and courageous individuals have played key roles. A paramount concern is to ensure that the industry continues to be well-served by staff and support personnel. It’s widely recognized that high levels of technical knowledge and professional expertise are needed both to build and maintain facilities.

Today there is a heightened concern over adequate staffing and technical support, as policy- and decision-makers often have quite limited knowledge of the needs, associated risks, and possible consequences of failing to appropriately address “people” needs. It’s easily understood that the failure of a large dam can have exceedingly dire consequences, in terms of loss of lives and economic damage. Yet, too often there is a “disconnect” between a simplistic understanding of such risks and the provision of appropriate resources to minimize catastrophic risks.

The International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) helps by informing those who need to know about public safety risks and by serving needs for building and maintaining dam-related expertise. ICOLD works through national committees and sponsors numerous technical activities, helping ensure a high level of competence among professionals. (A glimpse of ICOLD’s 2009 international conference, Brasilia 2009, is provided on page 22.)

It’s important that we each do what we can to assist in persuading facility owners and regulatory authorities of the importance and value of relevant technical activities. This includes supporting ICOLD, its national members, and similar endeavors that aim to ensure high levels of expertise. In this way, we can contribute to sustaining the valuable and growing legacy provided by dams and hydropower resources worldwide.

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