Seqwater explains: six stages of a dam safety upgrade

Dams supply our drinking water. They play a very important role in the SEQ Water Grid – making sure everyone in South East Queensland has water to live, work and play. At Seqwater (S-E-Q Water), some of the dams we operate were built decades ago and just like cars, they need regular maintenance to keep them in good working order. In Queensland, dam owners like Seqwater are responsible for the safety of dams under legislation. We regularly check our dams throughout the year and sometimes we may identify dams that need upgrades to meet the Queensland Dam Safety Guidelines. Upgrading a dam takes lots of time and planning. Every dam upgrade is different. Some may take a few months, while others take years. Typically, a dam upgrade has six stages: Firstly, a dam safety review is conducted. This involves assessing the condition of the dam and its compliance with the current safety guidelines, as well as reviewing the latest design standards. Depending on the findings, we may decide to lower the water level in the dam. This is an industry accepted practice and can help reduce pressure on the dam wall. The next stage involves identifying potential options for the upgrade. To do this, we may carry out geotechnical investigations and site specific studies. We will also start assessing the potential impacts the upgrade may have on the environment and local communities. The third stage involves picking a preferred upgrade option and starting the preliminary design. Options we may consider include, strengthening structures, upgrading the spillway, permanently lowering water levels, raising the dam wall or decommissioning the dam. We then explore the preferred option to better understand what it will involve, how long it will take and how much it will cost while keeping stakeholders and locals informed. Once we’ve decided on a preferred option, we can start designing the upgrade ready for construction. This includes finalising the size and shape of the upgrade, working out what materials we will need and in what order we will do the work. The planning stage is next. We set up a dedicated team, appoint contractors, finalise the construction plans, develop management plans for safety, environment and water quality, and coordinate all the necessary government approvals. Now it’s time to construct. This may take anywhere between six months to five years depending on the complexity of the project. Upgrades take time, but it’s what we must do to keep our dams operating safely.

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