In recent decades, dams have improved their operation and safety conditions in line with the demands of society. This progress has involved modernizing and adapting them to new technologies.
However, this progress has collided with the reality where technological advancements outpace the available resources for infrastructure investment. In some cases, major advancements have been made in sectors such as highways, high-speed railways, and numerous large dams, leaving behind those without the necessary resources and investment capacity.
Given this aspect, this article proposes the suitability of establishing a National Automatic System for Dam and Reservoir Information (SANIPE), which would encompass not only modernized infrastructure but also the existing ones in poorer conditions, as defined in the Inventory of Dams and Reservoirs (IPE).
And you might wonder, how can we establish this system with the minimum investment required to achieve the necessary advancements?
In my humble opinion, this could be achieved by setting minimum objectives to be met and desirable maximums to be attained.
Let’s start with the maximums that could potentially be installed in all dams nationwide, some of which are already in place in certain River Basin Authorities or Hydroelectric Companies. These maximums, without excluding any, include the following:
- Dam specifications or technical information
- Reservoir levels
- Monitoring and surveillance
- Emergency plan
- Video surveillance
- Technical archives and reports
All these aspects would be covered by the proposed SANIPE, which would gather information from various organizations or administrations related to dams, such as River Basin Authorities, Water Agencies, Private Companies, Irrigation Communities, etc., through the existing Inventory of Dams and Reservoirs (IPE), Hydrological Automatic Information System (SAIH), dam Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems, Automatic Water Quality Information System (SAICA), sirens, cameras, etc.
Now, what would be the minimum requirements for implementing an automatic information system?
Since the development of the Technical Regulation on Dam and Reservoir Safety (R.T.S.P.E) in 1994 and the Royal Decree 9/2008, progress has been made in this regard through the update of the aforementioned IPE and the creation of a register for small dams. However, it would be advisable to equip all dams with an automatic level control system similar to what the SAIH provides, but at a lower cost and with easier installation and maintenance.
This level measurement would allow us to have better control over operation, increase infrastructure safety, establish early warning systems for floods, and connect with emergency plans, among other aspects related to this variable.
Furthermore, as a step towards new technologies, it would be recommended for SANIPE and its information to be stored in the cloud, aligning with the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the globalized world.
So, what equipment or systems could meet these needs?
As an answer to this question, we can look at the systems installed in the Santa Lucía (concrete dam) and Peraleda de San Román (earth-fill dam) dams by the Government of Extremadura.
These equipment consist of a radar level sensor located on the vertical face of the Santa Lucía dam and a pressure probe at the bottom of the Peraleda reservoir. They are connected to a compact station of small dimensions, which does not require electrical power (solar panels) or civil works (simple anchoring to the vertical face or attachment to a pole, weighing only 5-8 kg). These devices are connected to the server via 3G/Satellite and transmit data to the cloud server, allowing us to establish early warning systems, generate graphs, store historical data, generate reports, etc. Installation can be completed in 1-2 days, and maintenance can be performed remotely with a single annual visit by specialized personnel. A photo of an installation is included at the top of this page.
These compact stations are also modular and can be expanded based on available resources and needs, including water quality sensors in the reservoir, control sensors for opening and closing of discharge gates, flow meters, video surveillance cameras, connection to Public Emergency Plans (PEP) sirens, weather stations, etc. All these devices would be connected to the Internet through a cloud server, and updating the server would ensure that all dams nationwide are fully modernized and equipped with 21st-century systems.
In conclusion and as a final summary of this article, I would like to call on the responsible organizations to establish a National Automatic System for Dam and Reservoir Information that encompasses the advanced systems already in place for large dams and incorporates those lagging behind. This system should automate water level monitoring through expandable compact stations that are autonomous, easy to install and maintain, and have a low investment cost. The Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud storage represent a unique opportunity that we should seize to enhance dam safety without requiring significant investments.
Director of Business Development
Member of the Spanish National Committee on Large Dams (SPANCOLD)