The success of an award- winning flood-control project in China depends as much on the cultural bridges constructed by its Calgary-based team leader as it does on the development of state-of-the-art software.
The project brought together three cultural elements – Chinese, Japanese and Canadian – says Dejiang Long, a water-resources engineer at the Calgary office of Golder Associates, a global group of consulting companies specializing in ground engineering and environmental science.
The Sihu Decision Support System (DSS) designed by Golder is a three-time winner. The first award came from the Chinese province of Hubei, where it is located; the second was a 2003 Consulting Engineers of Alberta Award of Excellence; and then, last month, it received an award of excellence from the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada.
“I feel humbly proud,” says Long.
The Sihu Basin, situated on the Yangtze downstream from the Three Gorges, Hanjiang and Dongjinghe rivers, covers more than 11,000 square kilometers of prime agricultural land supporting about five million people. Criss-crossed by dykes and other flood-control devices, it is similar to the Abbotsford area of B.C.’s Lower Mainland, says Long.
The basin is subject to frequent flooding that can cause huge problems for the people, wash away farming and spread disease. To give some indication of the area’s vulnerability, during the flood season from May to September, the river-water levels can be five to 10 metres higher than ground level.
With 37 sluice and control gates, two large flood-regulating lakes, 600 electrical pumping stations and the complex drainage network, the challenge was to develop accurate flood-forecasting procedures and to ensure optimal use of the entire system.
Golder engineers used innovative techniques to develop Sihu DSS, which uses historical data to supply real-time advice. It is believed to be the first of its kind in China.
The project was funded by the Japanese Consultant Trust Fund from the World Bank and was completed on schedule and on budget by Golder Associates in association with Mikuniya Corporation of Japan and the Hubei and Jingzhou Water Resources Research Institutes of China.
Founded in 1960, Golder Associates opened its Calgary office in 1972, which now has 330 employees. The company’s local office also recently completed environmental impact assessments for Canadian Natural and Shell, and is the undermining engineer for the Three Sisters Mountain Village in Canmore.
Long began working on the Sihu DSS in 1994. He has spent up to 20 per cent of his time on the project, and visited China three to four times a year in the last eight to 10 years working with the international team of experts.
“It was critical we got local participation and buy-in,” says Long.
The Chinese not only bought it, they kept asking for more.
Richard Reidinger, the World Bank task manager for Sihu DSS, said: “I have only rarely seen this level of enthusiasm and support for outside technical assistance on the part of our Chinese clients.”
One of the key factors, says Long, was having five or six Mandarin speakers, including himself, on the Canadian team so that they didn’t need translators and could be sensitive to local business practices. Developing the integrated team was very effective, says Long, and it has proved to be a long-term business relationship.
Sihu DSS software was designed to be compatible with and to suit local conditions, assisting managers to make daily decisions on how best to operate the numerous facilities while minimizing costs and preventing flood damage.
It came into its own as early as 1996 and 1998, averting potential flooding with an estimated savings of more than $20 million US, not to mention the savings in human costs. This figure will rise even further as future disasters are prevented. The World Bank has called it “path-breaking work.”
A group of Chinese professionals was trained in the procedures and they independently continue to refine and update the database, and to apply the technology to other areas in Hubei province.
“We gave them the tools,” says Long.
If all this sounds like the happy ending to a Third World development story, don’t be mistaken. It’s also a good business story for Golder, one of the leaders in this field.
It hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates, so to speak, but it certainly has opened other doors in China. As a result of the Sihu Basin success, the Yellow River Commission contacted Golder for similar assistance.
The Yellow is the second-longest river in China after the Yangtze.
A delegation from the commission is currently in Calgary working with Golder to develop project proposals. A draft recently won basic approval from the commission’s brass in China.
“It’s great for the Golder profile at the national and international level,” says company spokesperson Lana Jensen.