Barnaby Dobson

Project: Bringing reservoir operation into practice

Supervisors: Dr Francesca Pianosi and Professor Thorsten Wagener


Worldwide, the most common purpose of reservoirs is to deliver a reliable water supply, commonly for domestic and industrial use, irrigation or thermal plant cooling. Reservoirs enable a reliable extraction of water from a river at a rate between the river’s minimum and mean flow where, without a reservoir, only the river’s minimum flow could be reliably yielded. Other common functions beyond water yield also exist, including hydropower protection and flood control. These are the primary purposes to justify the construction of large (i.e. above 15 m) dams. Globally, 90% of large dams are designed towards these, or a combination of these aims. In England, the purpose is predominantly for supply with over 75% of reservoir capacity owned by water companies. A further 15% is owned by the Environment Agency for flood protection and conservation.

Optimization methods are essential tools to inform efficient reservoir design. The primary task of the design process is to determine the smallest capacity for which the reservoir can reliably yield its demand. Efficient design includes understanding and modelling how an asset will be operated otherwise one cannot simulate the reservoir’s performance.

If extensive water infrastructure already exists, reservoir operation optimization delivers other benefits. Due to the intrinsic difficulty of forecasting great distances into the future, dams often become unsuited to the conditions first envisaged in their design. Rather than expending capital on constructing new dams, optimization methods can tell us how the reservoir’s operation might be altered to fit within new conditions or how to efficiently operate a network of supplies for increased reliability.

A range of mathematical optimization algorithms and techniques have been applied to the reservoir operation problem, yet it is common for these tools to remain in research. My PhD aims at bridging these tools into practice.


Barney is in the Water and Environmental Engineering Group at the University of Bristol. Before starting the WISE CDT programme he graduated from the University of Bristol Civil Engineering with a first and the ICE student prize.

Barney has presented many talks and posters at various practice-research conferences and the AGU and EGU meetings. For a collection of these posters and a more detailed overview of his work, please click here.