HYDRO 2018 Gdansk: Selecting A Dredge For Your Reservoir Maintenance

Barrage du Ksob, M’Sila, Algeria with a DOP dredge 350

This week, I am here in Gdansk for a presentation on the HYDRO 2018 Conference1 and assist at the Damen booth at the corresponding exhibition. The paper and the presentation are already prepared and I am very excited to do the presentation, but I can’t wait till tomorrow and I like to share the story now, already. So, you, as my favourite audience, will have my personal spoiler after so many teasers have been floating around2,3,4.

General modes of siltation at the usual location in a reservoir

The thing is, dam maintenance and reservoir restoration is something already long on my attention list. Back already in 2008, I wrote a paper on this subject for the CEDA Dredging Days5. Over and over we’ve conveyed the message on various platforms, that dredging might be a viable solution for sedimentation problems in reservoirs. Usually, the solution by dam owners and operators is to flush, sluice or store the sediment. This looks horrible from a dredging perspective, but it is also to the environment. You either smother or starve the downstream river with sediment. As a right minded dredge enthusiast, you see many possibilities to dredge such a project. Immediately we can identify what dredge to use on which location for which purpose.

Selection of applicable dredges for reservoir dredging

If you are very close to the dam and the length of the discharge line allows it, you might even not need a dredge pump. (No wear parts!) It is a so called siphon dredge. But as soon as there is some further transport involved, either distance or uphill, you need a dredge like a cutter suction dredge or a DOP dredge. For even further discharge, you might employ a booster for increased discharge pressure. If the distance becomes very far, you might have to resort to grabs and barges.

Water injection dredging principle and example (this example would be too big for a common reservoir)

As an intermediate solution you might even consider using a water injection dredge. Usually the reservoir is in the mountains and a bottom gradient will be present, enabling the required gravity flow. The actual dredge should have created a silt trap where it can collect the inflowing material from the water injection dredge. Than it can handle the material as usual.

Alternative uses for the dredged sediment a) silt farming as fertile additive b) gravel extraction for concrete

Off course, the dredged sediment belongs to the river and the best thing would be to gradually release the sediment after the dam. But there might be conditions, where it is beneficial to extract the valuable fraction of the sediment and use it for agriculture or as aggregate in the construction industry.

Dredge selection diagram for reservoirs

We noticed, that it is often difficult to convey to dam owners and operators which dredge to select for which job. Sediment is seen as a liability and not as an asset and they rather neglect issues associated with the sediment. So, I made an attempt to have a plain and simple selection diagram. That is the core of my manuscript. But my objective is, that we will see many beautiful dredges contributing to a sustainable and viable operation of hydropower dams and reservoirs.

New DOP dredge family


  1. HYDRO 2018: Progress through partnerships, Hydropower and Dams
  2. LinkedIn Teaser, Saskia den Herder
  3. Damen: Spotlight on Hydro Power Dam Maintenance
  4. LinkedIn Teaser, Olivier Marcus
  5. Multi Functional Small Dredging Solution For Maintenance Of Deep Irrigation Reservoirs And Hydro Power Dams, CEDA

See also

DOP Dredges for Power Dams and Reservoir Maintenance

New DOP dredge family

Today, our product group director, Olivier Marcus, gave a presentation1 on the maintenance of irrigation reservoirs and power dams with a range of specially developed DOP dredges. Here, I am happy to elaborate on his message and share with you highlights from his presentation. As you may have noticed from my previous posts, reservoirs are a long standing interest of mine. It was one of my first commissioning jobs at my previous employer. It made me aware, that reservoirs and power dams are not always the clean energy and sustainable solution that they are usually presented for.

Don’t get me wrong, we need these kind of structures to pass on our planet in a better state to the next generation, than we received it ourselves. As with everything: we have to take care of these responsibly.

Barrage du Ksob, M’Sila, Algeria

Dams and reservoirs have mainly two problems. First, if the bottom of the reservoir hasn’t been cleared before filling with water, there is a lot of biomass available. Especially in warm and shallow lakes, the decomposing material can generate a lot of carbon dioxide. The CO2 footprint of the generated electricity might even be higher than from diesel driven power plants2. So much for the green image of hydro power. Second, the interrupted sediment transport will cause the reservoir to fill up. Eventually the storage capacity isn’t enough anymore and the operation has to be abandoned. So much for the sustainable part of the image.

The first problem should have been tackled during the building phase of the power dam. Maintenance during operation for the second problem. The simplest method is to flush the reservoir through the bypass. But you can’t flush all the sediment. The heavy particles up stream will remain in place. And you smother the life of the river downstream. A more effective method is to use dredges. Over the years, we have supplied several of these vessels, each specifically engineered and built for their own location.

Special design reservoir dredges (ul: Cosider, ur:La Mahuna, bl: Djebel Debagh, br: Gross Glockner)

In an initial survey of these dredging opportunities, we found some common features and could develop a range of DOP dredges specific for reservoir maintenance. The transport capacity of the river should be matched by the capacity of the dredge. Often resulting in a range suitable for a DOP pump. Their flexibility makes the dredges adaptable to work on all the different areas in a reservoir.

Various areas in a reservoir with their corresponding DOP dredge solutions

It’s been more than ten years after our first introduction of these nifty little dredges3 and with the experience gained, it was time to present you a next generation that could assist in achieving a sustainable power generation and a more environmental friendly operation. Main innovation is that this new range is also available in an all-electric version. Which should make sense, if it is going to work at a power dam. Always discuss this with the power dam operator, as they are not very fond of plugging in a dredge. They fear distortions and fluctuations on their ‘product’. Than consider alternative clean energy from solar or wind and lastly the old reliable diesel option. With a lot of reservoirs already losing their capacity, there is a lot of opportunity for these type of dredges.

Brave ambitious dredge Djebel Debagh has a lot of work ahead


  1. Hydropower & Dams Asia, Damen
  2. Hydroelectric power’s dirty secret revealed, New Scientist
  3. Multi functional small dredging solution for maintanance of deep irrigation reservoirs and hydro power dams, CEDA

See also

The Dredge That Refused to Work on Monday Morning

Cutter wheel dredge ‘Sylvia’ at work on the TIWAG Langkampfen power dam reservoir

One of the first commissioning jobs I had to do for my previous employer, was on the dredge ‘Sylvia’, as she refused to work on Monday morning. And no one knew why. She was purchased by the TIWAG, as they recognised that power dams are a blocking the natural sediment transport and could potentially damage the turbines in the power dam1. To prevent anything serious happening, the power dams were fitted with ‘silt traps’. TIWAG ordered a dredge to clean up the silt trap and make some money on the excavated sand, classified by a dewatering bucket wheel on shore2.

Overview of the TIWAG dredge ‘Sylvia’ and dewatering bucket wheel at Kufstein

At a power dam you would expect, that electric power wouldn’t be a problem. Well, those power dams generate power, but they don’t like to let you plug in your dredge. So, ‘Sylvia’ had to have her own power generation with a diesel engine. As power dams are usually high in the mountains, the dredge pump should preferably be placed on the ladder. The natural setup would then be an electric drive. On ‘Sylvia’ the classic and reliable electric shaft principle was chosen. The diesel engine speed is transferred to the dredge pump by the variable frequency. Depending on the generator speed, the field coil is excitated according to a controller, that can act as some sort of electrical clutch.

Explanation of the electric shaft arrangement on dredge ‘Sylvia’

One thing to be aware of with an electric shaft, is the starting current of the electric motor. The electrical engineer that designed the system just worked with the nominal operating point. I wasn’t involved in the choices, but nowadays I will warn people to about this misconception.

If the pump is started on an empty pipe, even with a moderate speed, the dredge pump receives no resistance and the capacity through the pump increases enormously. The power requirements increase to a level above the nominal operating point! After several blown fuses and an incinerated generator the system was slightly modified. Also, to restrict the power surge, a discharge valve was installed to ramp up against. At zero capacity, the pump requires virtually no power.

Start-up procedures plotted in pump curves

The difficulty with ‘Sylvia’, was, that there was no possibility to hook up the discharge valve to the hydraulic system. Instead, the valve was connected to the working air compressor. It primarily served as an air source for the bubble point to measure the operating depth of the dredge wheel.

Retrofitting a pneumatic operated gate valve to the pneumatic system on board

After installation, this worked fine. No blown fuses anymore. Should be fine. Until next Monday morning. Fuses tripping at every start-up. Only after several hours she would run normally. It turned out, the gate did not close completely under pressure. It required the full pneumatic operating pressure to close all the way down.

Aha! As the compressed air vessel was leaking air through the bubble point on the ladder over the weekend, there was not enough pressure to close the gate valve completely. As the mixture only needs a small opening to already draw a lot of capacity, the fuses tripped every Monday morning. Once the compressor was able to top off the vessel later in the morning, the gate valve did close completely and the dredge pump could start. A simple ball valve to close the bubble point remedied the leak and no more problems on that system again.

Characteristics of an opening gate valve


  1. Kraftwerk Langkampfen, TIWAG
  2. Several million tons of gravel extraction with a suction dredger, Stichweh

See also

A Reservoir of Dredging Opportunities