By Diana McCoyJuly 30, 2014
"The times, they are a-changin'," sang Bob Dylan 50 years ago as the U.S. Army fought a war in Vietnam. What would Dylan think today when a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) visited Vietnam in May to present dam safety information to stakeholders from across Southeast Asia?
The USACE Northwestern Division's Dam Safety Production Center asked Jacob Owen, chief of Kansas City District's Geotechnical Branch, to support the U.S. Pacific Command as part of the Lower Mekong River Initiative. Owen addressed the Mekong River Commission, with members from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The Dam Safety II Workshop was held May 5-8 in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Vietnam.
"I thought it was a great engagement," Owen said. "The Mekong River Commission is really trying to provide smart approaches to developing hydropower."
Hydropower is a developing resource in Southeast Asia, and Owen said that they have a growing appetite for power.
"We provided approximately 50 attendees with insight into how USACE approaches dam safety, and provided ways for them to consider the potential risks and consequences of dams, and also the potential life safety issues," Owen said. "Another aspect for them to consider, for example, is if Laos builds a dam in one area, how will it affect Vietnam in another area?"
Owen said they spent three days of the four-day workshop in a classroom, and one day touring the Tri An Hydropower Dam. He was accompanied by other USACE personnel -- David Paul, Risk Management Center; Robert Taylor, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division; and Cary Talbot, Engineer Research and Development Center.
"It was a real pleasure to work with these gentlemen. They are true professionals," Owen said.
In preparation for the event, Owen and the others put together technical sessions for classroom instruction on dam safety, including a mock periodic assessment.
This year's event followed the Dam Safety I Workshop in 2013 in Thailand. The objectives of this workshop included promoting Department of State Lower Mekong initiatives; building partner nation water security capacity development; improving coordination between Lower Mekong countries; and aiding the development of emergency response plans.
"Overall, the Mekong River Commission and the Mekong National Water Committees expressed an interest in focused hydropower training, technical reviews of regional dams, environmental considerations and conducting site visits to U.S. hydropower infrastructure," Owen said.
The importance of risk-informed dam safety in the region is paramount to life safety and economic success, according to Owen. The Vietnamese have a limited notification system to inform people in the event of a dam failure or a large release. Economic damages could also occur with the loss of commerce from a dam failure or damage to infrastructure.
A second workshop, Flood Modeling & Early Warning Capacity Development Phase II, took place May 12-14 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Owens and Talbot were asked to present at that workshop as well.
The second workshop was in support of the United States Agency for International Development and the Pacific Disaster Center for the government of Vietnam to promote partner national capacity development in water security. Sixteen representatives attended from the Vietnam Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Vietnam Disaster Management Center and other government stakeholders.
Owen said the consensus from participants was that Vietnam needs a national dam safety program and that future dam safety training is desired. He said the chances are very good that USACE will hold another engagement with the Mekong River Commission, and there have been discussions about potentially bringing some of those members to the U.S. to visit a USACE dam project.
"The workshop in Hanoi was very focused on establishing sound fundamental dam safety principles," Owen said. "Vietnam has some very good approaches to dam safety. They are committed to improving their dam safety program and should be acknowledged for their efforts. Relationships were established both with the Pacific Disaster Center and the government of Vietnam, making future engagements possible."
(Jacob Owen, chief of Geotechnical Branch, Kansas City District, contributed to this article.)