How Geospatial Analysis Can Expand Dam Lifespans | Rezatec

Extending the lifespan of a dam: How Geospatial analysis helps prioritize dam investments


As dams age and our weather becomes more extreme the risk of failure is more prevalent than ever. So how can dam owners maximise available data cost effectively and take steps to counteract the growing risks?

We talk a lot about the potential for dam failure in our industry. But the current condition of dams means the chance of a breach, flood or catastrophic event occurring is now becoming more probability than cautionary. Dams are ageing. And correct classifications as well as strategies for dam investments in new technology like Geospatial analysis are critical. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 70 percent of the 91,000 dams in the US will be over half a century old by 2025. Another stat from the National Inventory of Dams claims approximately 15,500 dams have the potential to cause fatalities if they fail.

The impact of such an event was seen in Michigan in 2020, when two dams collapsed with billions of gallons of water expelled from a lake, flooding nearby areas. Fortunately, on this occasion, the evacuation of thousands of residents ensured there was no loss of life. But the entire city of Midland, which has a population of 40,000 people, was left submerged under nine feet of water. An estimated 2,500 properties were destroyed with numerous roads and bridges also swept away or damaged.

Ageing and, in some cases, neglected infrastructure increases the chances of a dam disaster. But there was another major factor that led to the Michigan dam failure – it was overwhelmed with water. Heavy rainfall meant a deluge of five inches of rainfall in just 48 hours. It’s a sign that our ever-changing and increasingly extreme weather is putting these structures and assets under serious pressure. And is another reason why engineers, regulators, owners and operators should be looking at potential new dam investments, advanced technology and solutions like geospatial analysis and artificial intelligence (AI).

In a recent interview with National Geographic, Anne Jefferson from Kent State University in Ohio claimed that outdated infrastructure combined with heavy rains will likely generate a perfect storm for more catastrophes. But what can dam owners do to prevent these combined conditions from having a devastating effect on towns and their communities, especially when the cost of replacing and repairing them can be astronomical? In addition, how can dam owners be expected to keep up with the maintenance that will be necessary in the coming years. The answer lies in improved collection and analysis of data. For many years a ‘boots on the ground’ approach to assessing dams and reporting repairs and maintenance has proven relatively effective. But with rising costs, changing weather and an ageing infrastructure, geospatial analysis could provide a critical new tactic in a dam owner’s toolkit.

Geospatial analysis collects and utilizes data from satellites to build a more detailed picture of a dam’s health. It might seem an unlikely way of detecting changes that could lead to a dam breach, but it is already providing large-scale asset managers with more information to enhance, rather than replace, their existing data management. Inspecting a dam can take weeks, sometimes months, to complete, and it’s not always accessible or safe. By using remote geospatial analysis, a significant amount of work can be done remotely from the comfort of your desk.

The Rezatec Dam Monitoring solution takes geospatial analysis a step further. The platform incorporates geospatial AI to give operators the power to manage the integrity and safety of their entire asset base, across vast areas with brand new insights detected by our unique algorithms. And it can do it all remotely and at scale. The technology tracks unusual changes in ground motion, vegetation (a sign of leakage) and moisture, which could indicate that a fault or potential failure could occur. It fuses these multiple data feeds with advanced algorithms and incorporates satellite data to provide retrospective analysis and regular updates which build a unique picture of a dam’s condition over time. Dam investments such as this have proven both valuable and cost effective, enabling dam owners to spot anomalies before they lead to catastrophes and helping to direct maintenance resources to the right place. Billy Cothran, CEO at SJWD Water District had this to say about our technology: “SJWD chose Rezatec to get a clearer picture of the changes that occur over time with our dams. Our goal is to use this technology to stay ahead of any changes that could impact the integrity of our dams.”

It can be impossible to know where your resources are needed most as a dam owner. So innovative solutions that harness new technology and data collected from space rather than solely on the ground are now essential. Upgrading dams across the United States would cost upwards of $70 billion, based on estimates from the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. That means that even with funding from President Biden’s latest infrastructure bill, dam owners need advanced geospatial analysis powered by AI to help keep dams standing and communities safe

Book a FREE demo of Rezatec’s Geospatial AI technology today and discover how our solutions could help you improve efficiency and keep communities safe.

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Take a look at geospatial AI in action. Explore how satellite data can provide a view of your entire asset base across vast areas. Discover how analytics drill down to a level of detail you never knew existed.