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Meet our dam expert dedicated to safeguarding communities

2 May 2024 | News
2 May 2024

Protecting our team who work on our dams and communities who live around or downstream of them remains one of our highest priorities.  

Aida Gibbons is our Principal Dams Engineer and one of several capable and experienced engineers who lead our Dam Safety Management Program.  

She is a passionate engineer who loves the challenge of studying dams in detail and solving problems to ensure these structures remain functional and compliant with Australian standards. 

Aida and our dedicated dam safety engineers constantly monitor and manage seven major dams and eight diversion weirs across southern Victoria to keep risks as low as reasonably practical. 

She says monitoring and safety checks are part of a broader team effort and our requirement to meet Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) standards. 

“Our Headworks operators conduct visual inspections. Depending on the type of the dam, this could be daily or weekly.   

This is a vital part of managing dam safety, because operators are really familiar with the dam; they can quickly pick up any changes to the structure or around the dam.  

“We also use drones to capture the condition of areas the team can’t physically inspect,” she said. 

Our dam engineers conduct intermediate inspections yearly, with mechanical and electrical engineers joining them to comprehensively inspect the dam every five years.  

They also do special inspections after big floods and earthquakes as well as when operators de-water parts of the dam or when water levels drop naturally and expose previous covered areas. 

We operate storages with fix crest and gated spillways. Fixed crest spillway dams such as Blue Rock Lake are designed so that the water flows over the edge once they reach their full level. Gated dams such as Lake Glenmaggie give us more control and allow us to lower levels, when required, by letting water out downstream.  

Aida says they look at all components of the dam during inspections. This includes the structural, such as spillways, embankments and outlet works and testing the gates and outlet valves.   

“We look at the condition of the concrete and metal works. We make sure seepage monitoring points are free of debris,” Aida said.   

“We must address any issue that threatens the safety of the dam. We'll seek to understand how the issue arose and its consequences. Sometimes it’s easy to address, but other times it involves studies, further investigations, and testing.” 

The dam engineers may conduct geological surveys to better understand land and rock characteristics and geotechnical investigations to assess the engineering impacts of earth materials on the dam infrastructure. 

Piezometers may be installed to monitor changes in water pressure beneath the surface and other activities such as hydraulic modelling will also be done to assess challenges and inform solutions. 

Aida says if they detect an unacceptable risk, they will act immediately to reduce the risk to as low as reasonably practical by doing structural or non-structural works around the dam.   

“Our upgrade of the right abutment at Yallourn Weir in 2023 is an example of structural works we did to ensure to improve dam safety,” she said. 

“Located downstream of Lake Narracan, we operate the Yallourn Weir on behalf of Gippsland electricity generators.  

It is essential we ensure the integrity of the weir structure so they can continue their operations safely and keep Victoria’s lights on,” she said. 

Aida said by continually assessing dams and addressing any potential issues the dam safety team reduces the risk to our customers and community. 

“One of Southern Rural Water’s core value is to be ‘always safe’. This is what we live and breathe as managers of critical Victorian infrastructure and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously,” she said. 

“I lead on developing and updating our dam safety emergency plans, regularly review our operation and maintenance manuals for each of our dams and deliver refresher dam safety training for our headworks operation team. 

“We also submit quarterly reports on our executive management and must produce a detailed annual report for our board and the government,” she said. 

Talking about the future, Aida says she wants to see more women working in the dam engineering because it’s quite a niche field. 

“I was born and studied in Iran, home of some of the world’s largest dams, where it’s common for women to pursue math, physics and engineering,” she said. 

“Hopefully, with more focus on getting girls into STEM subjects here in Australia more will consider engineering as a career and working with dams because it’s such a rewarding job.”