Dam instrumentation plays crucial role

Tuesday 18 July, 2017

Kevin Jones is like a guardian angel – of sorts.

While not of the white-winged variety, you could say Kevin and his dam safety counterparts are doing their bit to keep tens of thousands of Victorians safe.

As each of these people live their lives and go to sleep each night, Kevin and his team are tasked with ensuring the smooth operation of safety surveillance systems on our dams – arguably some of the most critical and high-risk pieces of infrastructure in our region.

Based out of Goulburn-Murray Water’s (GMW’s) Hume office, he provides technical support and advice to dam operators and managers about dam instrumentation.

“We help with the installation and refurbishment of dam instrumentation infrastructure and buried instrumentation systems,” Kevin said.

This could be sensors which monitor pressure and movement within the embankment.

The sensing devices are connected to external points with tubes or wires where the readings are collected.

“External points are also monitored for vertical and lateral movements,” he said.

“GMW dam operators are the first line of defence in monitoring dam wall behaviour and our instrumentation assists with this.

“We also maintain the dam instrumentation database in conjunction with our dam safety engineers,” he said.

It’s non-negotiable for Kevin’s team to make sure all data gathered is reliable so that GMW engineers and consultants continue to make informed decisions based on dam surveillance programs.

Now one of the most skilled dam instrumentation technicians in Australia, Kevin is marking 38 years with GMW and reflecting on some of his career highlights.

He remembers his first role as a technical officer – being responsible for the monitoring of Dartmouth Dam (then the tallest dam in the southern hemisphere) during its initial fill.

“My duties at Dartmouth also included visual inspections of the dam, maintenance of the town water supply and sewerage systems, weather station, water sampling, telemetry, hydrographic logs, lake dissolved oxygen and temperature profiles, and maintaining the Dartmouth seismic network.

“It’s been a rewarding and challenging career and I have been directly involved with rehabilitation and safety upgrades at 18 large dams and weirs across GMW,” Kevin said.

“The upgrade projects started at Lake Eppalock in 1996 and continued most recently with the Tullaroop upgrades in 2016. These were projects requiring both new installations and the resurrection of dated instrumentation.”

“My role will continue as long as there are dams to monitor.”

He said the array of instruments at each dam is usually influenced by the size of the structure, the quality of the foundation, the quality of the dams construction and the technology available at the time of construction.

Recently, Kevin has been working with Melbourne Water and Tasmanian Irrigation staff to provide information on pneumatic piezometers – which are used to measure pore water pressure.

“Kevin was speaking to Tas Irrigation staff who informed him that they’d just inherited a dam with pneumatic piezometers and had no way of obtaining information from them, ” GMW Dams Manager Martina Cusack said.

“He was aware that Melbourne Water had a few decommissioned pneumatic read-out units, so he got one of the units working again so that Tas Irrigation can monitor these instruments to check the safety of their dam,” she said.

Kevin is also working on a manual so that staff can operate and maintain the piezometers. A trip across on the ferry to commission and instruct in the use of this equipment is now being considered.

And what do guardian angels do outside of work?

They operate beef farms of course.

Kevin’s is in Tallangatta Valley and he considers the farm work his exercise program.

“I love doing it and consider it a very good work-life balance. One thing is for sure - you never get a sleep in. There is always something to do,” he said.