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Dam safety in Vietnam: Construction, surveillance and monitoring
Among the main shortcomings and inadequacies in the safety of small and medium dams in Vietnam, very consistent opinion were assessed by national and international experts who were consulted on this topic.

DAM SAFETY IN VIETNAM

Construction, surveillance and monitoring

 

M. Ho Ta Khanh

 

Among the main shortcomings and inadequacies in the safety of small and medium dams in Vietnam, very consistent opinion were assessed by national and international experts who were consulted on this topic.

The main and most frequent observation and recommendation are directly reported below and are grouped into 3 broad classes for simplification. It can be observed many overlaps.

It is important to note that the aforementioned dams constitute the overwhelming majority of Vietnam's dam portfolio, with the exception of dams in the Da river cascade system, the specially graded dams, and dams owned by EVN which are under the direct responsibility of MoST for their safety.

 

1.     Organization and management

 

Lacking of management, warning, and forecasting equipment.

Insufficiently awareness on dam safety, mainly concentrating on solving incident cases, paying less attention to management and regular maintenance to ensure the safety and sustainability of dams.

Overlap management.

Inadequate and infeasible policies to meet practical requirements on dam safety (procedure, regulations, financing…).

The implementation of legal regulations in terms of dam safety management is needed.

The institution of water management includes a lot of shortcomings. It’s quite so far towards the goal of an effective integrated water management.

The local community has no or little influence on policy regulators, local authorities and dam managers to improve the current dam safety status.

So far the existing laws and regulations are neither efficient nor effective.                                

Inadequate and infeasible policies to meet practical requirements on dam safety (procedure, regulations, financing…).

Lack of management, warning and forecasting equipment.

Insufficient risk consideration and awareness on dam safety.

Insufficient priority given to the protection of the local community against hazardous dams.

Dam safety requirements are so strict, but scattered in places, there have been many incidents, including dam failure. The reason is due to lack of capacity, irresponsibility, and arbitrariness in the management of dam construction and reservoir operation. Planning hastily, lack of quality. Then anyone can design a dam, anyone can build a dam, anyone can operate a dam.

A lack of adequate operation manuals and management guidelines for dam managers. Many stages including dam planning, design and construction; operation and review; monitoring and surveillance; and remedial works and maintenance are poorly implemented.

The local community has no or little influence on other stakeholders, such as policy regulators, local authorities and dam managers, to improve the current dam safety status.

 

The Vietnamese dam safety management legislation does not satisfy elements because little detail of penalty regimes is provided to handle violations or non-compliance practices. The current legislation fails to identify which organizations and individuals are liable for consequences of dam failures. Similarly, criminal liability and specific penalties are not attached to non-complying organizations and individuals who fail to meet their obligation under enacted laws and regulations. In addition, involvement of the Vietnamese government in national dam safety management is evidently low.

 

Activities are only active in the rainy season and in the years with big floods of this tight organizational system. After the rain and flood, it is almost no longer effective on safety. The whole dam only serves the requirement of water supply for irrigation.

Management is only in exploitation and use to meet the requirements use water. Major repairs and periodic overhauls have not been carried out according to the process.

 

In many provinces, small dams are assigned to communes and cooperatives for management, lacking expertise subject. When damage occurs, it is not detected and repaired in time, leading to the problem.

For irrigation dams built before 1990, most records Operation management service has been lost.

The organization of management of dam safety has been assigned and decentralized uniformly from the central government to the locality, ensuring self-contained on the basis of specialized organizations.

For better dam safety management, there is a need for 'vertical' coordination, that is an agency that is responsible for synthesizing and assisting the Government in directing closely the different sectors and localities to limit the dam incidents and accidents. This body may be located in an appropriate Ministry with permanent responsibility, but is an interagency body.

Existing laws and regulations are neither efficient nor effective.

Absence of dam safety assurance programs and the lack of dam safety standards are also causes of the current problems.

 

2.     Insufficient quantity of competent staffs and funds

 

Management force consists of engineers, technical and manual workers. This force is inadequate in quantity and low qualification due to lack of training.

Due to not enough paying attention on enhancing capacity for staffs (including management staffs of all levels and workers involving in dam safety), relevant plans or training programs have not been designed yet to meet the requirements of specific training objectives.

The training for dam safety through widely propagating information to the people has not regularly been carried out.

Finance not sufficiently and timely provided, even its requirements for dam safety have been stipulated in concerned policies, for repairing, operation, maintenance and training activities.

Insufficient knowledge in management and operation on dams due to lacking of training on skills, techniques of dam safety.

Regular training of operation staff of small-scaled reservoirs should be implemented.

To improve capacity of reservoir management staff and workers.

Policies aimed at allocating national and local budgets to the management, operation and upgrading of hydroelectric reservoirs are necessary.

The sector of dam technology and water management is so specific that most of staff members of management have poor knowledge for their work and the public awareness is still limited in Vietnam.

Human factors are undoubtedly the dominant cause of the current poor dam safety status and dam failures (more than natural extremes and the age of dam).

Management force consists of engineers, technical and manual workers. This force is inadequate in quantity and low qualification due to lack of training.

Sometimes lack of responsibility and accountability at both local and central levels.

Insufficient knowledge in management and operation on dams due to a lack of training on skills, techniques of dam safety. For example frequent incorrect operation of gated spillway by Independent Power Producers (IPPs).

Finance insufficiently and timely provided.

Dam managers lack knowledge and qualifications to operate and manage dams.

 

There are insufficient funds for different stages of dam safety management.

 

Local authorities and dam managers have insufficient financial and legal powers to handle non-complying and emergency situations.

 

When there is a risk of breakdown, need money to fix, there is no source of funding.

Monitoring has many shortcomings: awareness is available but still simple. Human resources with expertise in monitoring are both weak and moderate short. Most monitoring devices use simple types, with little automation.

Some works are equipped with modern monitoring equipment but still operate ineffective, monitoring data is not used.

Officials and workers of irrigation companies have mostly been trained, but still over 20% are untrained.

Officers at all levels of management are not full-time, less qualified  update knowledge and information.

The issue of training has not been properly invested, so a plan and content has not been developed content and training programs in accordance with the requirements of the subjects.

Financing for dam safety requirements is stated in the policies. Although incomplete, some financial policies have old regulations, but they are not executed.

Implement many synchronous measures such as investment in repair, upgrade damaged works, strengthen implementation legal regulations on dam safety management;

Improve the capacity of the staff, management workers reservoir.

Have a policy of allocating national funds, the funds of the local authorities in the management, operation, renovation and upgrading of dams, reservoirs for hydroelectricity and irrigation.

Dam managers lack knowledge and qualifications to operate and manage dams.

 

There are insufficient funds for different stages of dam safety management.

 

Local authorities and dam managers have insufficient financial and legal powers to handle non-complying and emergency situations.

 

In addition the current regulatory agencies at both the central and local levels lack competence in addressing dam safety problems.

3.     Technical issues

 

Small reservoirs have incurred limited topography survey, geology investigation, hydrology study, and limited fund. Quality of the associated dams is not so good, and dam safety is at low level, consequently.

Small HPP projects of individual owners are often in low quality and less safe.

Dams are generally in low quality due to under standard design and construction, especially short of hydrology data. These dams expose to risk of overtopping, provided poor maintenance.  Spillways, made of various materials other than concrete, have limited capacity that also leads to risk of overtopping.

Dam owners being communes, cooperatives, state farms are less competent in engineering, technics, and financial capacity. Also that contributes to threat to dam safety.

 

CONCLUSION

According to Mr. Phạm Hồng Giang, former chairman of VNCOLD:

“The dam safety is the most worried topics because more than 90% of dams in Vietnam are small & medium embankment ones, which were built by local people’s handwork long time ago. Checking and rehabilitating them would take much work.

The institution of water management includes a lot of shortcomings. It’s quite so far towards the goal of an effective integrated water management. The sector of dam technology and water management is so specific that most of staff members of management have poor knowledge for their work and the public awareness is still limited in Vietnam. Those obstacles mentioned here are considerable”.

It can be observed that the not completely satisfactory practice of dam safety in Vietnam is mainly due to shortcomings in the application of some basic rules (organization and management, lack of qualified personnel and sufficient budget, technical faults, …), which are common to many developing countries. Consequently, a priority should be to remedy to these shortcomings with the “traditional approach”, as it has been already done in Vietnam these last years.

A first important dysfunction, at the origin of the main shortcomings, is the decentralization of the responsibilities to the provincial departments to manage dam safety of dams in respective provinces. As indicated above  by Mr. Giang: “there is a need for a 'vertical' coordination, that is an agency that is responsible for synthesizing and assisting the Government in directing closely the different sectors and localities to limit the dam incidents and accidents. This body may be located in an appropriate Ministry with permanent responsibility, but is an interagency body”. That is for example the reason of the establishment of the FERC in USA and the “Comité Technique Permanent des Barrages” in France.  

The “risk analysis approach”, recently developed in several industrial countries and combined with the traditional approach have gained great importance worldwide during the last years and is certainly an improvement for the dam safety. But it seems not fully applicable at present in Vietnam for the vast majority of dams since the lack of complete and precise data and competent engineers at the local level. A comprehensive risk-informed dam safety management framework in Vietnam will be probably a staged/tiered implementation.

 

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