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Viewpoint: Happy Birthday ICOLD!

Happy Birthday ICOLD!

Anniversaries provide occasions for reflection and, often, for celebration. The 80th anniversary of the formation of ICOLD — the International Commission on Large Dams (Commission Internationale des Grand Barrages, or CIGB) — provides such an opportunity. Officially formed by five countries in 1928, its membership now includes 88 countries.

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Within the worldwide hydro community, no organization has greater stature or importance than ICOLD. More than 10,000 individuals within the National Committees of the organization’s member countries form a dedicated, experienced cadre of professionals who provide much-needed services. Collectively, these individuals serve ICOLD’s mission to advance “the art, science, and engineering techniques for the planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of safe dams to ensure the sustainable development and management of the world’s water resources.”

For most of ICOLD’s 80-year history, society’s generally positive views about dams and their value went largely unquestioned. To be sure, there were many instances of opposition to projects — much of it in the vein of “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) opposition. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s, organized opposition arose to challenge specific practices and fundamental principles regarding both the raison d’ĂȘtre of dams and how projects are implemented.

This opposition has led ICOLD’s professionals to give serious consideration to the challenges raised externally, to examine the merit of such challenges, and to respond by making appropriate changes and taking appropriate actions. In addition, the commission has sought to affirm the merit of the ultimate goal of much of its work: to provide, safe, reliable, affordable, and effective water supply and hydroelectric power.

In an announcement for its 80th birthday celebration (November 24, 2008, in Paris), ICOLD has declared that “Sustainable development, world hunger, climate change — most of the 21st century’s challenges — are leading to dams. One of the fundamental requirements for socio-economic development throughout the world is the availability of adequate quantities of water with appropriate quality and an adequate supply of energy. … Properly planned, designed, constructed, and maintained dams contribute significantly toward fulfilling water supply and energy requirements.”

The creation, operation, and maintenance of safe, beneficial, and effective water and energy resource projects requires bringing together key financial and material resources, along with the vital intellectual resources that typically are provided by ICOLD members … provided today, as they have been for 80 years. We owe a debt of gratitude to these dedicated professionals.


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