Science & Technology

Design and Operation of Dams

David Brown
Thursday, 11 February 2021 - 6:30pm


In 1853 Captain Moody described reservoirs as being ‘engines of mighty force, strong in the aid of industry….and terrible in their power to destroy if mismanaged or neglected’.  The same is even more true today.  Society is now also reliant on them for drinking water and sanitation.  They also have an important role in recreation.

Canal reservoirs initially used the same materials and techniques as the earlier much smaller mill ponds.  Their limitations were soon tested but by the late 19th Century, when most of the drinking water supply reservoirs such as those in Longdendale were built, the design of earth dams had been refined to the form known as the Pennine embankment dam.  Concrete dams such as Thirlmere and Haweswater later improved Manchester’s water resources.  Most dams been built in the UK of recent years have been for flood alleviation purposes.

In the 19th Century, reservoir failures resulting in fatalities were not uncommon, but by the 20th Century dams had become much safer.  In 1925, however there were two incidents in which lives were lost.  Reservoir safety became a matter for statutory regulation as a result.  Whilst no one has been killed in the UK since then, there have been a number of failures and near misses, the most recent of which was the incident at Toddbrook Reservoir in August 2019 in which the population of Whaley Bridge was evacuated whilst the dam was secured.



About the speaker

David Brown is a 4th generation Mancunian, his great-grandfather and grandfather having moved to Rusholme in the 1920s to work in the glue industry.  David’s father was an industrial chemist and later a teacher and lived in the Manchester area for most of his life. 

David was introduced to canals in the 1960s when his father read that Marple Aqueduct was to be pulled down, organising a visit before it was too late.  The aqueduct was in fact eventually restored and the canal reopened.  UMIST’s Saturday afternoon lectures included canal related talks by Dr D E Owen and Dr C T G Boucher, which further stimulated his interest in canal engineering. 

Having studied Engineering Science at Durham University, he began his career designing roads and bridges at Durham County Council.  He became a chartered civil engineer during this time and in 1983, took up a post in the Bridges Section of the British Waterways Board in Leeds, designing swing bridges.  His career with BW, which later became the Canal & River Trust, took him to Birmingham, where he worked in wider aspects of canal operation and engineering.  Eventually, he specialised in reservoirs and in 2000 was appointed to the Panel of Supervising Engineers established under the Reservoirs Act 1975.  He became responsible for reservoir safety at BW in 2006 and became a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 2010.


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Event image: RAF chinook over Toddbrook Reservoir, Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, England, 2nd August 2019 - photo by Leslie Eckersley on Shutterstock