Message from the President


At the annual general meeting of the members of the Japan Commission on Large Dams (JCOLD) held on February 27, 2024, and the subsequent Board of Directors’ meeting, I was elected to succeed former President Hiroyasu Sugiyama as representative director and will serve as the 15th President of JCOLD. It is a great honor for me to be involved in the management of this commission, which has a long history and tradition, and at the same time, I feel a strong responsibility amidst the drastically changing situation regarding dams in Japan and abroad.

The paradigm shift in dam operations that has been taking place over the recent years has been remarkable. In response to the recent increase in the severity and frequency of torrential rains, we tried dam operation using rainfall forecasting, starting with the early release of water stored for water utilization to increase the flood control capacity of dams. Moreover, we are working on hybrid dams that provide both a stronger flood control function and more hydroelectric power generation to achieve carbon neutrality.

This series of initiatives involving dams to cope with torrential rains reminds me of a speech by former Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Akihiro Ohta on Japan’s water philosophy (2014 World Water Day commemoration ceremony held with a focus on “Water and Energy Nexus”).

(Below is an outline of the speech) – Japan frequently experiences natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes. Having to witness natural powers not controllable by human power, the Japanese developed the ideas of “Mujo” (transiency) and “Joju” (constancy). In the 13th century, Kamo no Chomei, in his work “Hojoki,” lamented the tragic situation, as a series of earthquakes, floods and droughts had occurred, each causing the loss of many lives in an instant. He compared people and dwellings in the world to the flow and foam of a river and said that everything in the world is transient and constantly changing. On the other hand, when people think about their daily lives and the future, they deny the concept of transiency and pursue constancy, desiring that it should always be so. In this harsh natural environment, the Japanese people have found the middle way between transiency and constancy, accumulated experience and skills through their long history, learned to cope with water, and built our country’s water culture. In the “Water and Energy Nexus,” we have been walking the path to an affluent life by seeking to realize constancy in transiency, not beyond transiency, in other words, seeking the middle way where constancy intersects with transiency. –

The above series of efforts are a new way of coping with water through dams, seeking a new middle way based on experience and technology. They are a new page in the history of Japan’s water culture.

On the other hand, this new way requires that dams are healthy and functional, but the intensification of torrential rains caused by the climate change has also brought up the problem of dam sedimentation. Until now, we have been taking measures to return the negative to zero, removing sediment having accumulated more than expected. However, disasters such as the torrential rains in Western Japan in 2018 and Typhoon No. 19 in 2019 showed the arrival of an era in which managing the total storage capacity in addition to the flood control capacity is still not enough for flood control. The climate change is forcing us to control water in new ways. We need sediment measures to turn zero into the positive.

In light of this background, Professor Tetsuya Sumi of the Disaster Prevention Research Institute, Kyoto University, was appointed Vice President of the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) at the perfect time. As you all know, it was also Professor Sumi who took the technical lead in the earlier series of efforts for dams. In the inauguration speech for the position of Vice President, Professor Sumi stated, “We will lead the world in dam upgrading, which includes operational modernization, and sediment environment restoration which includes sediment measures.” This could be understood as a desire to lead the world with Japan’s new water culture. Of course, as for a new subcommittee of JCOLD Technical Committee on database of dam upgrading cases toward enhancing benefits of dams and improving the catchment basin environment, which was established under the leadership of Professor Sumi, JCOLD will provide all possible support to ensure that he can fully engage himself during his three-year term as Vice President.

There are more missions connected to ICOLD.

The first is to provide the latest information on dams around the world and the discussions at ICOLD.

Recently, earthquakes, floods, and even wars have caused dam bursts around the world. The collection and provision of the latest information on dams in other countries is of great interest to our members and an important role of JCOLD.

Currently, dam safety is a major theme at ICOLD, including risk assessment of dams and the promotion of dam safety. More than six months before the dam burst of the Kakhovka hydropower plant in Ukraine in 2023, ICOLD was quick to react to news of concerns about the destruction and issued a President’s message stating that “dams should remain facilities that bring peace and development.” We will keep you updated also on these ICOLD topics in real time.

The second is technical cooperation on dams with other countries through ICOLD.

At last year’s annual meeting (Sweden), which was the first time we really participated after the COVID-19 pandemic, we immediately received a request from the Albanian National Committee of Large Dams to sign an MOU for technical cooperation. We expect to receive more requests for technical cooperation in the future, and responding to these requests is one of our major roles.

While there is concern in Japan about how to maintain and pass on dam technology, these requests are also proof of the high level of dam construction technology in our country. New dam technologies developed in recent years, such as the design and construction of trapezoidal CSG dams, redevelopment of existing dams, sediment measures, and automated unmanned heavy machinery operations are also world-class, while disaster-resistant and locally sourced CSG construction methods and automated unmanned technology can be applied to other types of construction and disaster sites. Most recently, we demonstrated our comprehensive technical capabilities overseas, in the Nam Ngiep 1 Hydropower Project in Laos. This project included not only the construction of a large dam but also resettlement, operation, maintenance, and power sales through project financing. Meanwhile, there are about 90 overseas dam projects that Japan has been involved in worldwide, and two-thirds of these are located in Southeast Asia. In addition, half of the dams are more than 20 years old, and it is very likely that they will undergo the same maintenance and upgrading as domestic dams in the future. We will continue to engage in technical cooperation with other countries with an eye on participating in dam projects taking advantage of our strengths in dam technology to meet such potential demand.

The third is activities at ICOLD.

Seeing young people exerting themselves in presenting papers and communicating at the technical exhibition at the annual meeting in Sweden for the first time after the long COVID-19 pandemic, I felt hope for Japan’s dam technology. ICOLD is like an international competition among different schools in the common language of dams, and a great place for young people to test their skills and train themselves. We will strive to provide information and conduct various activities to encourage active participation by our members. In addition, with their abundant experience and high technical skills, our members have been involved in many activities such as the preparation of dam design standards or international exchange of dam technology in various technical committees of ICOLD as JCOLD international committee members. The dissemination and international standardization of various Japanese technical standards in the technical committees will also help create an environment that facilitates entry into overseas markets. It is also from this perspective that we will continue to support the activities in the ICOLD technical committees.


Finally, the 12th East Asian Dam Conference (EADC Nagoya), for which preparations have been underway under the leadership of former President Sugiyama, is just around the corner. With the cooperation of related government agencies, members, academic organizations, and related industries, we will do everything we can to make EADC Nagoya a success. I would like to ask for further support and cooperation of all concerned.

And even if my own abilities are limited, I will also do everything I can. I would also like to ask the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and other related organizations, as well as former President Sugiyama, Vice President Oshimi, Vice President Tada, Vice President Mitsunari, and other directors and members for their continued guidance and cooperation.


Hideki Hirai

President of JCOLD