Digging into Dams: Celebrating National Dam Safety Awareness Day

GeoEngineers is passionate about using earth science and engineering expertise to help our clients find a balance between human needs and the earth’s physical systems. Dams and hydropower are integral to so many of these things—managing natural resources, keeping the lights on, and moving goods and people. Our dam services team strives to help improve and manage this infrastructure so it can keep serving us, safely and effectively. And this starts with understanding where we are at today.

Dams in the U.S.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) report card on America’s infrastructure provides an annual high-level overview of dams across the U.S., and we cannot help but be taken aback looking at the current state. From 1848 to 2017, there have been an average of almost 10 dam failures per year (NPDP 2018) and we continue to see this occur, as with the Edenville and Sanford dams in Michigan in May 2020. Additionally, the average age of dams in the U.S. sits at 57 years, with some more than 100 years old. There are also more than 2,000 deficient high-hazard dams in the U.S. that will take billions of dollars to rehabilitate. On this day we highlight these vulnerabilities in honor of the May 31, 1889, South Fork Dam failure in Pennsylvania and stress the ongoing importance of dam safety. We also recognize the need to continue to think about this critical part of our infrastructure every day and lobby our congress for the funds necessary to keep our dams safe and secure for decades to come.

We should also focus on what we are doing right. As the ASCE report card also points out, we have made progress on developing Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) for our high-hazard dams. Tools continue to be developed to help with resiliency of our dams with programs such as RiskMAP for Risk Mapping Assessment and Planning, and Dam Watch, which is a web-based application that monitors rainfall, snowmelt, stream flow and seismic events that could impact dam safety.

Here at GeoEngineers we look forward to doing our part in assisting dam owners, regulators and the public at large with analysis and evaluation of dam and levee systems.

GeoEngineers’ Approach to Dam Safety

GeoEngineers’ approach to dam safety is centered on risk management and resiliency, performance-based design, FERC compliance, environmental and ecological considerations and data management and monitoring. We are passionate about thinking safety first and providing evidence-backed solutions to proactively address dam challenges. Lindsay Flangas, PE, Chief Operations Officer and Principal Geotechnical Engineer, expands on the importance of risk management in our dam network. To read more about the importance of long-term resiliency, check out her blog post here.

GeoEngineers’ dam services team have been working on more than 90 dams and levees across the country. We provide a full range of integrated services in support of hydropower and associated projects including geotechnical engineering, dam safety, performance-based design and risk management, biological ecological and river sciences and planning and permitting. Some of this work has included the Yelm Hydroelectric Project and remote dam monitoring for Portland General Electric (PGE). Check out this web page for more information about GeoEngineers’ dam services expertise.

GeoEngineers is actively involved in staying current with the dam engineering community through memberships and committees and we support and thank our partners in the pursuit of dam safety and resiliency nationwide. To learn more about dam safety issues and challenges, and how you can be prepared, visit ASDSO’s website.

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