Experienced Dams & Hydropower Engineer, Nathaniel Mar Fan shares his wrap-up of the Australian National Committee on Large Dams (ANCOLD) 2023 conference, held recently in Cairns, QLD. The annual conference provides a collaborative knowledge-share of leading industry contributions, addressing current and future dams challenges and milestones.

Attending this year’s ANCOLD conference in Cairns, included a group of specialists from SMEC’s Dams and Hydropower and Geotechnical teams. The theme of the conference centred around the critical resource of dams, and the accompanying presentations challenged delegates to reflect on the importance of these structures on our collective health and prosperity. It reminded attendees of the implications of the technical intricacies that contribute to the bigger picture and the impact we can have as an industry on society.  


65 different papers were presented over the course of the conference, 30 different exhibits and a series of well-timed plenary presentations – all of which were delivered beside a strong social and networking piece of the event. Being supported to attend the ANCOLD Conference for the first time, it was revealed just how tight knit the dams, hydropower and tailings community is. And for those attending the conference again, it was noted just how progressive the event has come to be, and how it continues to focus on the issues of today.  


From a compliance and regulatory perspective, there were key presentations that provided further direction for guideline “grey areas” and elaborated on “best practice” focusing on risks-based methods rather than a standards-based approach – a familiar trend that we see in our day job at SMEC.  


In terms of technology and data innovation, it was great to see how technical processes were not only being refined to reduce conservatism but also improving the realism of estimates, calculations and models alike. SMEC’s own Sam Lalli and Ryan Morrish were two great examples of such innovation and presented on the impacts of certain inputs in seismic analysis of concrete gravity and embankment dams, respectively.  


A particular highlight for me was the discussions around the portfolio of dam improvement projects in Queensland and how the industry as a collective will be required to respond. Presenters acknowledged the current resourcing constraints and simultaneously provided proposed response measures. It is an exciting pipeline of works and amazing opportunities are on the horizon for the QLD dams industry. 


It really was a privilege to attend ANCOLD Conference 2023 with my peers this year. And I can’t wait to see what’s on at ANCOLD next year. 


Words by Nathaniel Mar Fan – Experienced Engineer, Dams & Hydropower QLD |