Reflecting on my recent participation in the US Society on Dams (USSD) Conference held in Seattle, USA, from 22 to 25 April 2024, I am energised by the wealth of knowledge exchanged and the collaborative opportunities that emerged.

Engaging with industry leaders and experts in the field of concrete dams, the conference provided invaluable insights and actionable strategies to enhance our projects and opportunities at SMEC.


The theme of the USSD Conference, “The Ripple Effect: Amplifying the Importance of the Dam Industry,” resonated deeply with SMEC’s commitment to driving positive change through our work in dam engineering and construction. This theme emphasised the connection of our efforts and the significant impacts of our projects on communities, economies and the environment.


My participation at the conference included attendance to the Concrete Dams Committee meeting, including my involvement in the subcommittees on analysis and raising of concrete dams. Likewise, there was an opportunity to attend very interesting paper presentations during the technical sessions and networking with colleagues and dam service providers from North America and around the world.


Participating in the subcommittee drafting a white paper on raising concrete dams was particularly enlightening and may help in the Australian market on the upcoming raising of Burdekin Falls Dam and continue developing the concept design for the Mt Bold Dam upgrade.


Key technical highlights


The conference resulted in several technical highlights that will be shared with the broader dams team, including:


  • Unexpected seismic behavior of passively anchored spillway: Method to estimate dynamic modulus o elasticity of concrete from modelled strains; damage plasticity model for reinforced piers; reservoir suction of radial gates during earthquake loading
  • Expedited assessment of a dam’s seismic collapse capacity using the endurance method for concrete dams (equivalent to a seismic pushover analysis)
  • Shaping blocks and foundation beneficiation features of the raised gross dam to improve the structural behaviour of concrete dams in irregularly shaped valleys
  • Comparison of radial gate analyses with new and outdated USACE manuals. New manual for structural analysis and design or steel gates (EM 1110-2-2107) released in 2022 vs previous guideline (ETL 1110-2-584) and its implications using a case study
  • Spillway erodibility assessment, including a case study which proposes a modification of the Erodibility Index Method (EIM) to account for kinematic effects in steep slopes.
  • Using performance data to evaluate the current conditions of post-tensioned and fully grouted anchors in concrete dams. Experimental non-destructive method to evaluate the tension force on post-tension anchors without the need of lift-off tests.


Incorporating these insights into our project strategies will enhance our engineering prowess and fortify our commitment to delivering sustainable, resilient infrastructure solutions. As we leverage the collective wisdom gleaned from forums like the USSD Conference, we reaffirm our dedication to pushing the boundaries of innovation in dam engineering and construction.


SMEC boasts a rich legacy of expertise in the dams and hydro sector. With a strong focus on delivering innovative and sustainable solutions, SMEC has established itself as a trusted partner for clients worldwide. Our multidisciplinary approach, coupled with deep domain knowledge, enables us to tackle complex challenges and deliver tangible outcomes that meet the evolving needs of the industry.



Francisco Lopez, Chief Technical Principal – Concrete Dams and Member of USSD Technical Committee on Concrete Dams
Francisco Lopez, Chief Technical Principal – Concrete Dams and Member of USSD Technical Committee on Concrete Dams