SAVANNAH, Ga. – Across the Corps’ portfolio of dams and levees requiring rehabilitation, a risk cadre team here sets out to identify issues that could lead to further degradation of structures and pose economic or life-threatening risks to surrounding communities.
Savannah’s risk cadre recently renewed a memorandum of agreement for dam safety technical support for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Risk Management Center (RMC). The new three-year agreement will provide a full-time risk cadre to support national dam safety program activities managed by the RMC, said Phillip Smith, risk cadre lead.
The cadre imparts technical expertise to evaluate and recommend procedures to reduce risks to the highest hazard dams within the Corp’s inventory of more than 600 dams. The lengthy process merges research (review design work, historical documents and performance history), in-depth risk assessments, reports and follow-up recommendations, said Smith.
The team determines failure likelihood based on loading on the dam (hydrologic or seismic) and downstream consequences of potential failures. They evaluate failure mechanisms such as embankment or foundation internal erosion, slope stability, embankment overtopping, and spillway and gate issues, said Smith.
“These risks can be reduced by structural repairs to make the dam safer, reducing consequences by better downstream awareness and warning time, or both,” said Smith.
Smith, a 30-year veteran in the district’s engineering division, oversees five full-time members who handle two to three projects per year, often in unfamiliar terrains that come with their own challenges.
“Dams on the West Coast have geological and seismic issues that we don’t deal with on the East Coast,” said Smith. “But those obstacles have widened our exposure and sharpened our expertise.”
Their expertise has been cultivated on projects in the New England, Fort Worth, Huntington, Albuquerque, and Vicksburg districts. And with a renewed RMC partnership, the team resumes work on the Mill Creek Dam for the Seattle District, and Hills Creek and Lookout Point dams for the Portland District.