Over the past two years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had nearly 50 agreements and over 100 construction activities underway, thanks to over $17 billion in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These projects are making a difference for communities across the nation, from protecting against floods to boosting commerce to preserving and enhancing aquatic habitats.
Congress has invested $665,000 from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to install new prefabricated staircases for the safety of maintenance workers who use the staircases to inspect the condition of Luck Peak Dam.
These staircases allow access to Lucky Peak’s piezometers, an essential component to dam safety at Lucky Peak Dam. A piezometer is a geotechnical instrument that measures changes of water level or water pressure beneath the surface. There are 25 piezometers specifically arranged at Lucky Peak Dam to gather risk assessment data for engineers. The piezometers extend to different lengths beneath the surface to measure water depth at specific locations.
The piezometers were established and modified between the completion of the dam in 1955 and 2012 to gather the best geological readings. The instruments still provide accurate data for engineers.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducts weekly and monthly piezometer inspections around Lucky Peak Dam, comparing the data with previous recordings. The piezometer readings benefit USACE by verifying the performance of the dam. They help analysts identify uncommon water levels patterns and to make appropriate decisions for dam safety.
“We use the data to make risk-informed decisions of the performance of the project,” Steven Wyrembelski, Senior Geotechnical Engineer for the Walla Walla District, said.
There is only one way to access three important piezometers: through the staircases on Lucky Peak Dam. The staircases are old and are hazardous for maintenance workers who use them.
“Those three piezometers are the most important ones to tell us about the performance of the dam,” Wyrembelski said. “We are going to have a new system that improves access to those three.”
The BIL funding will allow new prefabricated staircases to be installed so that USACE officials can safely continue to access the piezometers to aid the wellbeing of the project and keep the Treasure Valley safe.
The design contract will be awarded in the fall of 2023 and construction will begin September of 2024.
In addition to weekly and monthly piezometer readings, USACE conducts one-year and five-year inspections of the equipment. The next five-year inspection is scheduled for 2024. Altogether, these inspections help to ensure Lucky Peak Dam remains solid and safe.
In the dam's almost 70-year history, it has stopped an estimated $2.4 billion in flood damages since 1961.
USACE engineers continue to look for ways to improve piezometer monitoring to maintain dam safety.
The South Pacific Division (SPD) is working to put a portion of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law monies to good use by supporting their regulatory program through training, development of programmatic tools, hiring of new Regional Technical Specialists (RTSs), and tribal nation outreach initiatives.
The funding also supports hiring of new staff to establish and maintain a Regional Technical Support and Execution Center (TREC) to support execution, increased agility, and consistency in program delivery, specifically for BIL projects. SPD is taking advantage of the flexibility they were offered when standing up their respective TREC.
“What this means for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the opportunity to develop the relationships, processes, and technology that will enable USACE Regulatory Program to continue to effectively deliver decisions that balance natural resource protection with the need for progress and economic growth,” says Tori White, SPD’s chief of Operations and Regulatory Division.
“Each USACE Division was given flexibility in establishing their TREC by USACE headquarters,” added White. “So, SPD hired a workload/program manager and team leader at the Division level to oversee the Center and lead a team of regulators in implementing and delivering BIL projects.”
White says SPD is unique in that it has leveraged its Regional Technical Specialists (RTS), or high-level subject matter experts within a district, to provide a minimum 25 percent support to the region. SPD also pulled its existing RTSs into the TREC to ensure agile “support center” staff to provide execution and technical expertise across region.
This support was also extended through the integration of their RTSs from the Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise - another distinctive SPD focus. The TNTCX provides a cost-effective administrative tool to improve USACE’s quality and effectiveness in delivering USACE missions and Federal Trust responsibilities to Federally recognized tribes.
“With 182 federally recognized Tribes in SPD’s AOR, having a dedicated Regional Regulatory Tribal Liaison is essential for SPD to meet its tribal trust responsibilities effectively and efficiently,” said White. “So, SPD pulled its a tribal liaison from the Albuquerque District Tribal Nations Technical Center of Expertise to support not only the TREC but the entire regional regulatory program.”
Mark Gilfillan, a senior tribal liaison with USACE SPD, sees the value and long-term benefits of this initiative by the division.
“Knowing that SPD covers an area of at least 10 states and 182 Tribal Nations, the tribal land areas within SPD AOR alone constitute more than 50% of all Indian Tribes within the contiguous 48 states;” said Gilfillan. “Therefore, throughout all of our SPD Missions and business line areas, there is a great need and an advantage to having a RTS for tribal actions and attention. The TNTCX is vital to the successful management of our relationships with Tribal Nations, which helps us maintain and operate key infrastructure projects that contribute to the Nation’s economy, environment, safety, and quality of life - now and in the future.”
Gilfillan also sees how the integration of the RTSs is critical to serving this often-unseen community and relishes in his opportunity to be part of this change.
“My favorite part is providing tools to meet the task, within the given timeframes, procedures, program limits, and work regimen, we all have today. However, as a tribal liaison, it is equally important to bring forward the tribal concerns and needs for consideration. Tribal communities are often some of the most deserving, but underserved areas of our Nation.”
The TNTCX is currently preparing a scope of work for SPD to address strategic tribal communications, outreach, and treaty rights including development of a GIS based tool for Regulators, adds White.
SPD is also developing an Environmental Justice Principles for the Regional Regulatory Program. Environmental Justice is the fair and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, national origin, or income regarding the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies, with no group bearing a disproportionate burden of environmental harms and risks.
“These initiatives align with SPD commander’s priorities and the SPD vision for delivering bold solutions to serve and strengthen all communities,” said White.
The Walla Walla District recently completed dredging work at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers near Lewiston, Idaho and downstream of Ice Harbor Dam. This is the first project the district has completed using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds.
The commitment of Walla Walla District engineers and designers was essential to the overwhelming success of this project. The project delivery team received funding in April 2022, with the goal that dredging would occur during the next in-water work window, which ended March 1, 2023.
The team worked diligently to design the project, collecting incredibly accurate data for contractors, and taking steps to ensure strict environmental standards were met. The effort, which should’ve taken over a year to complete, had a contract awarded by the end of September 2022.
The overall attention to detail resulted in a project that was delivered successfully and $3 million under budget.
Dredging is an important mission for the Walla Walla District, enabling free movement on waterways. This dredging work provided necessary maintenance for the federal navigation channel, which must be maintained at a depth of 14 feet. The Walla Walla District also worked in coordination with stakeholders along the navigation lanes. These stakeholders were able to use the contractor mobilized by the Walla Walla District to perform necessary dredging at their facilities at their expense.
These additional dredging locations included the Clarkston Crane Dock Maintenance Area, the Clarkston Grain Dock Maintenance Area, the Clarkston Recreation Dock Maintenance Area, the Clarkston Cruise Line Dock Maintenance Area, and the Lewiston Grain Dock Maintenance Area.
During the design phase of the project, Walla Walla District engineers used bathymetry data from 2016 and 2021 to provide estimates of how much sediment needed to be removed in the target areas. These estimates were used to inform contractors when putting the project up for bid.
The estimate used for the contract was 218,980 cubic yards of sediment. After work was completed, the final quantity of sediment removed totaled 218,286 cubic yards, a difference of only 0.3%.
Before the actual dredging began, multiple surveys were performed to determine the potential environmental impacts of the project.
“We performed surveys of the areas to be dredged for fall Chinook salmon nests and young lamprey. The water clarity was high, and we were able to determine there would be little to no impacts on these resources from the dredging,” Benjamin Tice, a biologist for the Walla Walla District, said.
All Washington State water quality standards were met throughout the project. The Walla Walla District worked in coordination with multiple agencies to ensure environmental compliance, including the National Marine Fisheries Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and the Nez Perce Tribe. By working together with our partners and stakeholders, we can find innovative and effective solutions that balance economic, social and environmental priorities.
The actual dredging began on January 5, and the contractor removed 218,286 cubic yards of sediment in less than 60 days, in 144 scow loads. This sediment was disposed in-water at a site near Bishop Bar. Work was completed before March 1, before the spring fish runs.
“It is often overlooked that responsible stewardship of the natural and non-natural resources we are entrusted with is an intrinsic part of our commitment as engineers and designers. Good design serves to ensure proper use of the resources we have been blessed with to meet the needs of society while safeguarding those resources for continued use. I believe this project serves as a good demonstration that shows we can effectively utilize our natural resources responsibly and exercise good stewardship to preserve those resources for future generations,” Frank Wachob, a civil engineer for the Walla Walla District, said.
The last dredging work done in these areas was performed in 2015, eight years ago. Historically, dredging for channel maintenance has been conducted every three to seven years.
The Walla Walla District will continue to invest in the best technology and practices to ensure the highest quality services. The district has many more projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including the ecosystem restoration of Clover Island. The ribbon-cutting ceremony for Clover Island will be held on May 12.