The researcher of the Swiss center Centre de recherche sur l ́environnement alpin (CREALP),Javier Fluixá Sanmartín, develops in his doctoral thesis Adaptation strategies of dam safety management to new climate change scenarios informed by risk indicators. This is a comprehensive methodology that strengthens the resilience of dams. The research was conducted taking into account extreme events and thus prioritizing investments in risk reduction measures. This thesis is directed by Ignacio Escuder, researcher of the Water Resources Engineering group of the Institute of Water Engineering and Environment of the Universitat Politècnica de València (IIAMA-UPV).

For Javier Fluxá, “the incorporation of the effects of climate change on dam safety is fundamental in the future of the management of this type of infrastructure. Dams are synonymous with progress, social welfare and quality of life. This is why it is necessary to adapt their management strategies in the medium and long term and include the uncertainty associated with the new climate scenarios”. Therefore, the study starts from the reality that dams are critical infrastructures. Its benefits go beyond hydroelectric production. They also provide flood protection, a reliable water supply and adaptation to climate change like no other renewable energy source.

Background to the Research

Tailored management of your security must meet the criteria of resilience and sustainability in the future. It must especially take into account the effects of climate change. “Traditionally, risk management and the definition of adaptation strategies in decision-making have assumed the invariability of climatic conditions. This includes the persistence of historical patterns of natural variability and the frequency of extreme events. However, it is expected that climate change will significantly affect water systems and compromise the safety of dams, which can undermine their proper functioning, “says Javier Fluixá.

In this context, the research develops a practical methodology that allows quantifying in a global and standardized way the impact of climate change on the safety ofdams. It also allows the design of adaptation strategies that incorporate the non-stationary nature of future scenarios. “The objective of this study is to strengthen the resilience of dams to extreme events and prioritize investments in risk reduction measures. The current Spain could not be understood without the current system of dams, We would not be able to supply 46 million people and sectors as significant as agriculture, industry and tourism would not be as developed”, says Ignacio Escuder.

Characteristics of the methodology developed and case study

The methodology developed is based on risk analysis techniques applied to dam safety, and in particular on the use of risk models. With these models it is possible to assess the effect of climate change on every component of a dam’s safety. “The technique comprehensively incorporates the effects of climate change on dam safety. It establishes a long-term approach to its management. Opt for robust adaptation measures that integrate the uncertainty associated with different climate scenarios, “explains Fluixá.

In this sense, its director Ignacio Escuder highlights that this methodology is conceived in a “more global way compared to other studies” that evaluate the impacts separately. Or that they tend to focus on specific aspects such as hydrological solicitations, relegating or ignoring other aspects of safety. He adds: “This is an innovative and multidisciplinary study that integrates climatic components. It also includes hydrological modelling, data processing, dam risk assessment and safety management. The results provide new information from previous studies, such as the future evolution of dam risks and how to adapt decisions in terms of managing their safety.”

Methodology Implemented by a Real Case Study

This methodology was implemented on a real case study. It is the first documented application of a comprehensive analysis of the impacts of climate change on the risk of dam rupture. It therefore serves as a frame of reference for the definition of long-term adaptation strategies and the evaluation of their efficiency. “The results indicated that in most future scenarios a deterioration in risk compared to the current level of risk is expected. However, the effects vary depending on the climate scenario studied and sometimes lower future risks can be obtained,” says the author of the study.

The impact of climate change on the dam system

The effects of climate change are felt in multiple areas related to the environment, such as temperature rises or the melting of glaciers. Likewise, even in the most extraordinary ones such as the occurrence of extreme events in the form of floods and droughts. Under this prism, studies proliferate that analyze these components, but relatively little research has been done on the effects that climate change would have on the evaluation of dam safety and mainly on its management.

“Given the importance of these infrastructures for society, their failure or malfunction would have important consequences in economic and social terms. But also for the loss of the benefits they bring: water supply, electricity production, or flood control. Therefore, the methodology developed seeks to help make robust, justified decisions, and with greater economic efficiency in the long term, “says the Valencian researcher.

Conclusions of the Research

For Javier Fluixá, climate change is not so much an added risk. It is more of a destabilising that changes the rules of the game that have been used until now to assess how the safety of a dam should be managed. “The calculation techniques used, the processes of support for decision-making and also our way of understanding and addressing future risks, must adapt to the new reality imposed by climate change,” he stresses.

The strong uncertainty associated with climate scenarios means that it cannot be determined a priori. It must be determined “in which sense a dam is going to be affected. It must be clear that the impacts will change over time and must be taken into account to make efficient decisions in the long term.” Finally, both researchers highlight that “dams are our great asset in the face of climate change. They allow us to regulate an increasingly scarce and torrential water resource. They also allow us to advance in the energy transition and protect against floods linked to the increase of extreme phenomena”.

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A research led by IIAMA develops a comprehensive methodology to strengthen the resilience of dams

A research led by IIAMA develops a comprehensive methodology to strengthen the resilience of dams. Photo: Unsplash. Credits: Vadim Fomenok @vadimpng

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