Sensor technology, used in conjunction with satellites, is being used to enhance monitoring of a North East reservoir dam, following a successful pilot project.

Amey Consulting’s innovative pilot for Northumbrian Water, at Burnhope Reservoir in Weardale, County Durham, explorehow real-time measuring of dam movements could benefit the water industry and other operators.  

Today, all dams are built to move and shift by small amounts as the reservoir levels rise and fall during the course of the year.  Monitoring of movement is checked as part of regular inspections carried out in line with the Reservoirs Act 1975. However, the pilot has shown how measurements taken in real-time can be transmitted via the cloud to Northumbrian Water’s control room, so that, in the unlikely event of movement exceeding agreed thresholds, remedial actions can be taken to avoid a safety issue from arising. 

A series of 84 sensors were placed on the dam wall, transmitting triaxial tilt measurements to a cloud server to establish sub-millimetre movements in the structure. This precise movement was verified using open access satellite data (interferometry) to give reassurance of vertical settlement. 

The pilot was implemented thanks to Government funding through InnovateUK, awarded to Amey Consulting for the monitoring of critical infrastructure. 

Kevin Miller, Northumbrian Water’s Reservoir Safety Manager, said: “Just like aeroplane wings move to provide stability and safety in-flight, dam walls shift to a varying degree, depending upon the size and scale of the structure. However, it is important to know how much they are moving, to make sure they are operating correctly and that there are no safety issues. 

“This pilot, which ran over the course of a year, showed that this can be done by the minute.  This means we have access to real time data which will inform when maintenance is required. Using the sensors, we were able to measure sub-millimetre movements, in line with what we expect to see. With the reservoir full, there was a 50mm shift and we saw that return to its original position as levels lowered again. 

Matthew Watt, Amey Consulting’s Innovation Manager, said: “Stepping from a more traditional monitoring approach, towards one which is essentially gathering data 24/7 significantly enhances the understanding of dam movement. People tend not to realise how much these assets can move all year round. Working with Northumbrian Water through this project, we have learnt a great deal of the behaviour of embankment dams, whilst verifying the accuracy and reliability of our hybrid data-source. Using the system installed at Northumbrian Water’s Burnhope Reservoir, we intend to tailor the outputs of this project towards the exact requirements of the UK Water sector. The appetite for innovation is clearly healthy in the water sector and that is a very encouraging message to the UK’s service provider in these fields. 

Amey Consulting is now working with Northumbrian Water to identify value opportunities on the reservoir asset stock, with a view to enhancing the understanding of dam behaviour and supporting proactive asset management.