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Hydro Review Boards

An important component for a successful development.
J. L. Gordon, P. Eng. Fellow CSCE
Abstract The use of Review Boards on large hydro projects
is now a common practice. They provide some assurance that the
project layout and design is the optimum for the site. However,
some developers are not aware of how Review Boards should be
used, and the opportunities provided by the presence of the
Board, to enhance the local engineering experience of both the
developer and the consultant. Review Boards are rarely used on
smaller hydro projects, primarily due to cost. However, a strong
case can be made for Review Boards on smaller projects. This
paper addresses several issues arising from the use of Review
Boards, including liability, meeting organization and reporting.
Index TermsHydro, design review, cost, safety.

There is currently resurgence in the construction of hydro
power facilities in Canada and around the world. This
construction activity is straining the resources of hydro
consultants, to the extent that many are understaffed and their
engineers are overworked. Furthermore, there is a paucity of
senior hydro engineers due to the lack of hydro activity during
the dry years between about 1977 and 1997, when few
hydro plants were built. During this period, many hydro
engineers either retired or sought employment in other fields.
Consequently, there is a risk that design and construction
mistakes will be made due to a lack of knowledgeable senior
hydro engineers at both utilities and consultants. For example,
about 15 years ago, the author was asked to review 7 prefeasibility studies, and four contained serious errors.
The risk of errors has been recognized by most large
utilities, and is being addressed by the use of Review Boards
consisting of a few very senior engineers with considerable
hydro design and construction experience. Review Boards are
not a new concept; they have been used on many large hydro
developments such as Tarbela in Pakistan (1968-76), the
Columbia River Storages in British Columbia (1962-73) and
at Churchill Falls where the Dyke Board has been in
continuous service since 1969, monitoring safety of the dykes
and underground structures.
Review Boards are usually cost effective in that they often
find errors or improvements that more than cover the Board
expenses. Also, they provide peace of mind to the owner that
is more valuable than the cost of the Board. However, there is
a general perception that they add cost to the development,
due to a preference for a more conservative design. This is not
always the case, as the following 2 examples will illustrate At one utility, it was the practice to encase the turbine steel
spiral case with reinforcing bars designed to take the full
J. L. Gordon is an independent hydropower consultant residing at 102
Blvd. St-Jean, Pointe Claire, Quebec, Canada. H9S 4Z1

pressure of the water, without any allowance for the steel

casing. Reinforcing bars around the casing are difficult to
design and install, since each one is different due to the
changing shape of the spiral casing. The steel casing was also
designed to take the full water pressure without any allowance
for the surrounding concrete. A belt and braces design,
mainly to eliminate cracking in the powerhouse substructure
concrete as the steel casing expands under the water pressure.
The Board persuaded the utility to undertake a finite element
analysis of the casing and concrete, and the analysis produced
an answer allowing the elimination of about half the steel
reinforcing, at a considerable saving in time and cost.
Another case involved the addition of anchors to stabilize a
large concrete dam, due to an increase in the reservoir flood
level. The Board was able to recommend a design whereby
about half the anchors were eliminated, at a significant saving
in cost. So cost savings are possible.
Not all utilities are familiar with the use of a Review Board;
hence this paper will discuss how, when and why Review
Boards should be used, and whether Review Boards should be
used on smaller hydro developments.
One of the first decisions to be made by an owner; is when
to engage the services of a Review Board. Based on the
authors experience, the answer to this question is the sooner
the better. Very often, the Review Board will recommend a
change in the design concept, and if the project is very far
advanced, it may not be possible to make the change without
incurring added costs. An anecdote will illustrate the problem.
The Board was called in when the project design was well
advanced, and construction had commenced. The intake
design had the gate hoist located in a chamber below the
concrete deck, and just above the reservoir full supply level
(Figure 1). The Board recommended relocation of the hoist to
a position above deck level, to avoid inundation due to a
waterhammer surge on turbine full load rejection.
Unfortunately, the intake was already being built; gate and
hoist were being manufactured, so a change was not possible.
At the next development for the utility, the Board made the
same comment, and in this case, there was ample time to make
the change. However, the utility rejected the recommendation,
since the intake concept was their standard design. Shortly
after commissioning the first development, there was a fault
on the transmission line, when the reservoir was at full supply
level, and the turbine was at full load. The surge in the short
intake canal, combined with the 40% waterhammer on load
rejection, resulted in flooding of the intake gate hoist and
some minor damage to the hoist enclosure. This persuaded the
utility to accept the Board hoist recommendation on the third
development, to relocate the hoist to above the deck and to
discard their standard design concept.

The utility learned two lessons from this incident (1)

listen to the Board, and (2) convene the Board as soon as
possible, when changes can be easily made.

Air vent
Removable concrete slab
Reservoir extreme
flood level

Full supply level

Low supply level

Figure 1. Drawing showing intake gate hoist location.

The optimum time for engaging the services of a Review
Board is after completion of a pre-feasibility study, and just
before commencing a full feasibility study. This is when the
Board can review the layout and suggest changes, without
incurring additional costs for changing a design concept.
Review Boards should have experience in the type of
problems likely to arise during design and construction of the
project. Hence a typical Board will have
A geotechnical engineer experienced in rock mechanics.
Another geotechnical engineer experienced in embankment
dam design and soil mechanics.
An engineer familiar with hydraulics and hydro structures.
A mechanical engineer experienced in hydro mechanical
equipment such as turbines, gates and cranes.
Other members are added if there is a particular problem,
such as a structure requiring finite element analysis, or a dam
with an element such as a deep cut-off or a concrete face. A
construction/cost engineer could also be added if the owner
requires a review of the project cost. However, this task is
usually undertaken by a design-build contractor on smaller
projects, and by the utility on larger projects.
The optimum size of a Review Board is about 3 to 5
members. A larger Board becomes unwieldy and expensive,
and a smaller Board will lack the broad range of experience
required to cover all issues likely to arise during execution of
the work. Note that there is no electrical engineer on the
Board. This is due to the fact that the utility will have the
required experience within their staff to cover all the electrical,
control and electronic issues on the project. Nor is there a
hydrological engineer, due to the fact that by the time the
Review Board is constituted, all hydrology work will have
been completed, and if necessary, will have been reviewed by
an experienced independent hydrological consultant.

One of the Board members should be appointed as the

Board chairman by the utility, so that someone can control the
private meetings of the Board, and ensure that discussions
remain focused on the issues at hand.
The question of liability is foremost in the minds of Board
engineers, and is the major stumbling block when trying to
recruit members for the Board. The usual insurance clause
proposed for Board member contracts often states
Professional liability insurance.
A Professional Liability Insurance policy covering the
professional services rendered . of not less than
$2,000,000 per claim with a deductible of not less than
$250,000 per claim. Such coverage shall be maintained
continuously until completion of services
Unfortunately, liability insurance is just not available to
sole practitioners as the insurance industry calls individual
engineers practicing in several areas of the consulting
engineering industry. Any person providing advice on dams,
nuclear plants or environmental work, cannot obtain liability
insurance; the risks are just too difficult for the insurance
company to assess. Hence, the utility or project owner has to
include liability exclusion in contracts with Board members;
otherwise they will be unable to recruit any engineers. The
usual liability limitation on a contract with a Review Board
member states
Limits on liability.
The maximum amount on the Undersigned total aggregate
liability to ABHydro relating to or arising out of
performance of the Services or of the Contract shall be
limited to the total fees paid to the Undersigned under the
Contract during its term. The Undersigned shall not be liable
to ABHydro for any loss of revenues suffered by ABHydro.
Where liability exclusion is not possible due to policy
standards imposed on the utility, the Review Board may be
recruited through the consulting engineer, with Board
members paid by the consultant, and their liability insurance
also paid by the consultant as an extra to the consultants
liability insurance. This arrangement is not the best, since it
inhibits - to some extent the impartial work of the Board,
particularly when a Board comment may reflect negatively on
the work of the consultant.
The project owner should provide some terms of reference
for the Board, and allow the Board to comment on the terms
after the first meeting when the project concept has been
explained. The terms should include a list of the parameters
which the Board accepts as a given, not requiring any review
or comment. These parameters usually include the principal
project characteristics such as reservoir and tailwater levels,
installed capacity, flood and diversion flows.
Project cost is usually also excluded from the review
process, mainly due to the fact that the developer will have a
better understanding of local costs.
The terms of reference would include a list of the project
features the developer and the consultant wish to have
reviewed, plus any other items the Board suggests after

becoming acquainted with the project. Typical general terms

of reference would be as follows (2)
1. Review the project design concepts, excluding all items and
concepts listed in Appendix X. (List provided)
2. Provide comments on the suitability and adequacy of the
proposed designs. Offer suggestions and recommendations
to enhance or improve the designs.
3. Provide comments on proposed construction methodologies
and/or methods to ensure timely completion of the project.
4. Review the quality of the designs and completed works to
ensure compliance with project specifications and standards.
5. Review the adequacy of the project schedule and provide
comments or recommendations on possible changes to the
project schedule to ensure completion on schedule.
6. Provide brief reports on completion of the Board meetings
to the project Owner.
7. Propose necessary meetings of the Board, and to schedule
such meetings.
A liaison engineer is usually appointed by the owner, to
organize meetings, secretarial services, hydro site inspections
and follow up on any requests for further information
requested by the Board. Most Review Board meetings last
about a week, and are organized as follows
Board members travel to the meeting office on a Sunday.
Monday is spent on formal presentations by the consultant
and developer, with a CD of all report and PowerPoint
presentations provided to each Board member. A paper copy
of the presentations is convenient, but adds to the bulk and
weight on travel, and is usually left in the meeting room.
Tuesday is spent on travel to the site, presentations by site
staff on construction and geotechnical investigation
progress, followed by a site inspection. Where the site
covers a considerable area, it is usual to provide Board
members with a site map showing the route taken during the
inspection tour and locations of stops. During the evening,
the Board often dines with site staff, and one of the Board
members may present an informal paper on a similar project
or site where there may be similar issues.
Wednesday is spent on completing the site inspection and
travelling back to the office.
Thursday is devoted to preparation of the Board report.
During this time, secretarial services are provided by the
owner or consultant, for reproduction of draft reports, and
the liaison engineer is on hand to follow up on any requests
made by the Board of some project aspect. Typing of the
report is normally undertaken by the Board members on
their own laptops.
Friday morning will see a continuation of the Board report
work, with completion by noon. The formal presentation of
the Board report will occur in the afternoon, followed by the
Board members travelling back home in the evening.
The Boards report normally has a 1-page covering letter
signed by all Board members prior to departure. In some
cases, the report may not satisfy the requirements of the
owner, or may not fully explain the reasons for a
recommendation. In such cases, the deficiencies are discussed
at the final meeting, and arrangements are made to revise the

report, with Board members consulting each other via the

Most Board members are over about 60 years old, and may
have some mobility issues. This should be taken into account
when organizing the site inspection. Steep slopes, very rough
terrain and long walks should be avoided. Also, an individual
should be delegated to keep an eye on the Board members, to
ensure that they do not stray into a dangerous area where
equipment may be working.
All utilities are very aware of the dangers associated with
construction work, and pride themselves on accident-free
project construction. At one site, the contractors safety
engineer enquired about the Board members, and was advised
that one was well over 70, and another used a walking-stick.
The 4-member Board, on arriving at the damsite, was
astonished to see a plywood sidewalk being hammered
together by a half-dozen carpenters, leading from a road over
bare rock down to the center of the dewatered river channel
(Figure 2). The sidewalk had stairs and a handrail where the
slope down was steep. Later, when Board departed, carpenters
were just behind, dismantling the sidewalk! An extreme case,
but it does illustrate the project owners concern for safety.
Another concern is the length of the working day. It should
not exceed 7.5 hours. The Board members usually spend their
evenings discussing the work and agreeing on who should
write what. Sometimes the discussions can become quite
heated until a consensus is achieved.

Plywood sidewalk

Figure 2. Dewatered Eastmain River with plywood

sidewalk under construction. June 2004.
Most reports are organized to facilitate their production in a
minimum of time. The usual format includes
A covering letter with no mention of the report
recommendations. It merely serves as a method of directing
the report to the project owner. Space is provided for
signature by all Board members.
An index, prepared by the secretary.
An introduction, summarizing the itinerary, design and
construction progress since the last Board meeting.

A series of sections written by each Board member on their

particular interest in the development, including any
A concluding section summarizing the recommendations
and drawing attention to those that are most important.
An appendix (#1), prepared by the owners liaison engineer
giving a detailed account of the itinerary.
An appendix (#2), prepared by the owners liaison engineer
providing a list of all attendees at the meetings, and a list of
all reports and PowerPoint presentations made to the Board.
An appendix (#3), to include any calculations, drawings or
photographs prepared by Board members deemed to be an
essential part of the report.
The last appendix is a rare addition, since Board members
prefer to have all calculations undertaken by the consultant,
and instead suggest what and how additional calculations
should be undertaken.
Most reports are kept as short as possible, since there is only
a minimum of time available for their production. However,
owners should insist on the Board producing at least a
reasonable draft of their report prior to departing. Later
revisions are difficult to produce, since some Board members
may have other commitments or could be travelling overseas
where internet connections are not available.

Propane torch



Figure 3. Desperately trying to unfreeze spillway gates.

(A) Upstream view, propane torch melting ice.
(B) Downstream view, iced in gates, 2 of 14.


Board members have a great deal of experience, the reason
they have been selected as consultants. This fact should be
taken as an opportunity for the transfer of knowledge, by
requesting one or two of the Board members to present an
informal paper on some interesting subject recently
investigated by the member.
This would be particularly appreciated by site staff, who do
not, by nature of their assignment, have the opportunity to
attend conferences or even evening classes at a local
university. The most effective time for such presentations
would be on the Tuesday evening at the site conference room,
commencing late in the afternoon.
A similar opportunity arises at the consultants or owners
offices, where an invited lecture on some hydro design aspect
could be presented. One recent presentation was on cracking
in the concrete face currently occurring at high concrete-faced
rock-fill dams in narrow canyons, and the measures being
taken to prevent such cracking.
Of course, the Board member should have sufficient time to
prepare the lecture, particularly if the subject has not been
presented previously. However, very often the Board member
may have a ready-made lecture from a previous conference,
and this could be presented on short notice if the subject is of
interest to the local engineers.
Most large hydro projects now have Review Boards. The
question is then why not for smaller projects. One answer is
that Review Boards are considered to be too expensive, and
with limited engineering budgets, smaller projects are unable
to afford the expense of a Review Board. However, the author
is of the firm opinion that scaled-down Review Boards are
required on smaller projects, based on the following incidents.



Figure 4. (A) View down intake air vent. (B) View of

tailrace. Both views show air entrainment.
Flow, cfs.


Output, kW.

Head, feet





Figure 5. Performance chart for 9-blade propeller turbine.

The design mistakes currently being made on smaller hydro
projects are just too numerous to ignore, such as
The use of unheated gates on a northern flowing river where
spring thaw flows arrive before ice is melted (Figure 3).
Intake gate water velocity close to spouting velocity,
causing air entrainment and lower turbine output (Figure 4).
Unrealistic performance for small turbines (Figure 5).
The location of an abrupt right-angled bend in the penstock
immediately upstream of the turbine.
The use of a relief valve in a long penstock with a knee
where negative pressures would occur.
An intake design with a trashrack back-flush feature
which allows unscreened water to enter the conduit.
Widely spaced trashracks, allowing hard tree-root sinkers
to pass through and crack the Turgo turbine runner blades.
Tunnel rock traps with no access for cleaning.

Spillway drop-down flap gates with hinges at bottom, at the

same level as the bottom of the river, where downstream
backflow can deposit debris, hindering gate operation.
An impulse unit set with the jet nozzle level below the 1/10
tailrace flood level.
Intake with inadequate submergence (Figure 6).
Powerhouse with no crane, where a crane was added after
commissioning (Figure 7), when it was found that mobile
crane rental costs were becoming excessive.
No emergency exit in a powerhouse (Figure 8).
Improper draft tube design.
No downstream vent at by-pass turbine installed at pressure
reducing valve in pipeline resulting in excessive cavitation.


Flow direction

Figure 6. Very large vortex at intake with inadequate


A couple of detailed case studies will illustrate some of the

more complex types of problems being encountered.
The first case involved the addition of a powerplant to an
existing storage dam. The feasibility study had recommended
using a single vertical axis Kaplan unit in a powerplant with a
repair bay set just above extreme flood level, which was some
10m above the normal tailwater level. Due to the high
tailwater, the top of the generator would be below the repair
bay floor, a not unusual occurrence. This arrangement
minimized the footprint below turbine floor level, and hence
minimized any tendency towards floatation.
Water-to-wire tenders were called for the equipment
without any limitation on the type of turbine unit required. The
low bid was for two horizontal axis standard design Francis
units with the shaft set 3m below tailwater, and a runner
diameter of just less than 1.8m, the maximum for horizontal
axis Francis units. The deeper than normal setting was
required to counter cavitation in the turbine due to the high
flow being passed through the runner at design flow and head.
A more normal setting for a horizontal axis small Francis
turbine would be for the shaft at about 1m above tailwater.
This arrangement meant that the flood level would now be
13m above shaft level, and about 14.5m above powerhouse
floor level. The contract was awarded for the equipment
without undertaking an analysis of powerhouse costs,
including equipment erection costs, which would increase
substantially due to the added rental cost of a mobile crane.
The powerhouse became a large rectangular building with the
roof level 0.8m above tailwater, with a hatch in the roof for
lowering the equipment by a rented mobile crane, down onto a
very small repair bay. The volume of concrete in the
powerhouse was about three times the normal volume to avoid
floatation, despite the use of anchors to bedrock.
The end result is a powerplant with very difficult access,
and an interior layout so crowded, that it is not possible to
easily access the equipment for repair (Figure 9A).

Figure 7. Powerhouse containing 2 inclined axis SAXO

units. Exterior crane added after units installed.



Figure 9. (A) Generator rotor removal at a semi

submerged powerhouse with tailwater at roof level, and
minimal repair bay. (B) Measuring plumb-bob movement
to within 0.0005 inch in flexible powerhouse.
Figure 8. When construction over, no emergency exit.

The second case involved the construction of a new

concrete dam and powerplant containing two large horizontal
shaft S-type Kaplan units, with a runner diameter of 3.2m
and with the intake structure forming the upstream wall of the
powerhouse (1). The equipment was installed and aligned
when the reservoir was empty. After filling the reservoir, it
was noticed that the upstream thrust bearing, which was
anchored into the upstream wall of the powerhouse, was out of
alignment. Very precise measurements were taken with the
turbine water passages empty (Figure 9B), and later full of
water, with the water retained by closing the draft tube gates.
These measurements indicated that (facing downstream) the
right hand unit bearing was tilting down and to the right, and
the left unit bearing was tilting down and to the left, indicating
deflections within the upstream wall. A comparison with other
powerplants with similar-sized turbines indicated the lack of a
central thrust pier between the units. The upstream concrete
wall was correctly designed from a structural standpoint, with
deflections well within those allowed by the building code.
However, the deflections were far too high for a concrete
structure acting as an anchor for mechanical equipment, where
deflections within the foundation are just not allowed. The
unit was re-aligned, and wear on the bearing will be higher
than normal as the reservoir fluctuates seasonally.
In both these cases the owner was building their first hydro
facility, and in both cases, the consulting engineer lacked
senior hydro engineers within their staff. Both problems would
have been spotted by a Review Board, and in the first case, the
Board would have requested a comparison of W/W equipment
costs, to include the completed powerhouse cost.
As mentioned, cost is the prime deterrent for use of Review
Boards on smaller projects. This can be resolved, to some
extent, by using only one or two senior engineers, and relying
on them to recommend additional experts if problems are
encountered outside their area of expertise. Further savings
could be attained by eliminating the site inspection.

the design-contractor could optimize quantities and costs more

effectively than the consultant.
Most large hydro developments are now designed and built
with the assistance of Review Boards.
The many design mistakes currently occurring on smaller
hydro developments warrant the use of small Review Boards
on such projects.
A Review Board meeting will normally require about 5
days, one for presentations, one or two for the site inspection,
1.5 for report preparation, and finally about an hour or two for
report presentation. This time frame could be shortened for
smaller projects by eliminating site inspections and forwarding
drawings and reports for review to Board member offices.
Review Board members need to be provided with liability
insurance since such insurance cannot be obtained by
independent hydro consulting engineers.
Review Boards are usually cost-effective, add a measure of
security to the project, ensuring that the design concept is
sound, and providing peace of mind to the Owner that is more
valuable than the cost of the Board.
The preferred number of Review Board members is
between 3 and 5. Smaller Boards could be used on smaller
hydro developments.
Board member age and physical ability should be taken into
account when organizing site inspections.
The best time for starting Review Board work, is prior to
commencing the detailed feasibility study, when changes to
the project concept can still be made without incurring
additional costs.
Review Board members could be asked to present informal
papers or lectures on their work, in the interests of transferring
knowledge to local engineers.
[1] Gordon, J. L. The flexible powerhouse, HRW, May 98.

Personal communication:
[2] From Dr. R. P. Benson, P. Eng.


Figure 9. High Falls powerhouse.

An example of using a Review Board on a small project was
at the 44MW, 44m head High Falls re-development project for
Brookfield Renewable Power, where the 2-man Board
suggested several changes to the project specification,
including the use of Kaplan units instead of Francis turbines,
and allowing the design-build contractor the freedom to
propose alternative layouts. The constructed project differed
significantly from that proposed in the feasibility study, since

Jim Gordon graduated from Aberdeen University in 1952 with a first class
honors degree in Civil Engineering and commenced work with Montreal
Engineering. During this time he was the Chief
Design Engineer for 6 hydro projects which
received awards for excellence in design by the
Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada.
He has worked in 15 countries, and for 9 years he
was the Vice-President Hydro, retiring in 1990.
Since then, he has practiced as a private
consultant, providing advice to consultants and
hydro utilities on design, cost, mechanical
equipment selection, and has served on Review
Boards for Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro,
Hydro Quebec, Brookfield Renewable Power,
Manitoba Hydro and BC Hydro. He was awarded
the Rickey Medal by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the
Distinguished Service Award by the Canadian Electrical Association. He has
authored or co-authored 86 papers covering a wide range of subjects, from
vortices at intakes, to turbine cavitation and generator inertia. He has been an
invited speaker at 27 seminars, and is the author of 43 Lessons learned
columns published by HRW (Hydro Review Worldwide).