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 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) South Atlantic Division (SAD) commander, Brigadier General Daniel Hibner, signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on June 29, 2023, with the Puerto Rico Power Authority (PREPA), to initiate the permanent repairs of the Guajataca Dam in Isabela, Puerto Rico. The total estimated cost for this project is around $1 billion. The funds will be received from PREPA with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Recovery Funds. It is estimated that the permanent repairs will benefit 1,000 people that live directly downstream of the dam and another 250,000 that receive water from the filtration plants in Guajataca, Quebradillas, Isabela, and the mountains of Aguadilla. Governor Pedro Pierluisi was present during the signing ceremony.
“This Memorandum of Agreement sets the path for the final phase of the permanent repairs at the Guajataca Dam. This partnership is set for success, not only because of USACE expertise, but also because we have tremendous support from FEMA and the engagement and commitment of our local sponsor PREPA.” stated Brig Gen Hibner.
In 2017 Hurricane María caused failure of the spillway structure and damaged the water supply line, and the dam outlet works. Project Manager Carolina Burnette explained that the MOA paves the way for the risk analysis, which will take approximately two years. After completing this step, the design phase will occur, followed by the construction phase which is expected to last five years.
Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, stated that “this project will bring a dam that was built in 1913 to the twenty-first century. The dam will not only get the repairs needed but it will also have an alarm system that will inform first responders if evacuations are needed or will notify authorities of any other emergency that will put lives or properties at risk. The repairs will provide the Guajataca Dam with the stability, strength, and resiliency it needs for the future.”
Prior to signing of the MOA, Brig. Gen. Hibner met with Governor Pierluisi and other members of his cabinet and briefed them about Task Force Virgin Islands Puerto Rico (VIPR), as well as provided them with updates from the Puerto Rico Power Mission. The SAD Commander explained that “VIPR represents a precedent setting time in the history of USACE in the Island since the program infrastructure in Puerto Rico is larger than the last fifty years combined. This is an opportunity to make history in Puerto Rico. Task Force VIPR is about people: protect life and property of the citizens by mitigating the flood risk with leadership whose focus are the projects in both islands.”
The Power Mission, led by USACE’s District of Savannah, was also discussed before the ceremony. Regarding this mission, Brig. Gen. Hibner commented that USACE is “actively engaged in addressing the power grid challenges in Puerto Rico that have been made worse by recent hurricanes. The Corps is contributing valuable technical expertise to successfully deliver power to the grid and the infrastructure to rapidly respond to power generation and repair issues now and in the future.”
The results of a yearlong study by an independent external peer review panel to assess the use of risk-informed dam safety practices is now available to the public. The verdict – the way the nation operates its dams across three federal agencies is appropriate and sound but can benefit from some areas of improvement.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), alongside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Bureau of Reclamation, contracted with a panel of dam experts, all external to their agencies, to review their dam safety practices at the direction of U.S. congress. The review took place following the 2017 spillway failure at California’s Oroville Dam, which triggered broad industry concerns about the safety of dams nationwide.
“Many agencies including USACE took a much closer look at how we have been evaluating safety at our dams. Congress was also interested in what the Oroville incident meant for the nation and for federal dams specifically. They asked USACE to coordinate an independent review of the risk policies and methods used to assess risk across the three major federal agencies that own, operate, or regulate dams in the U.S. It was congress’ intent to inform improvements broadly in national dam safety practices,” said Risk Management Center’s Director, Nate Snorteland, whose work falls under USACE’s Institute for Water Resources.
The panel, which includes a broad range of experience and expertise, encompassed individuals from the United States, the Netherlands, and Australia, and included academicians and a private sector consultant. In addition to evaluating agencies’ use of risk in dam safety and regulation, the panel also considered how dam safety practices are affected by human factors, as well as how risk informed analysis in other industries may be applicable to dam safety practices.
According to Snorteland, the review consisted of several meetings between the agencies and the panel, where documents provided by the agencies were reviewed and each agency briefed the panel on their policies and methods. “The panel spent more than a year examining the documents and discussing them with the three agencies. Ultimately, they provided a draft report, received feedback from the agencies, and provided an out brief to the agency leadership. The report was finalized in September 2020 and submitted to the Administration,” Snorteland said. The report has now completed clearance and is ready for release.
The review showed that overall, the risk management programs for dam safety in the three agencies are appropriate and sound. Additionally, the agencies’ implementation of risk-informed decision-making are consistent with federal guidance despite differing levels of dam safety program development between agencies. The panel felt the level of cooperation between agencies and progress made by the agencies over the last 10 years was important and improved safety overall.
The report also highlighted issues that warrant attention by the agencies. Specifically, the panel recommended agencies incorporate practices used in other industries more fully, such as incorporating human factors into the risk methods. The team also recommended agencies fully calibrate models used in risk analyses and employ expert judgments to support safety assessments. Other recommendations of note included improving communication with the public on their risk exposure. USACE concurred with each of the recommendations and has developed a plan to implement improvements over the next several years.
According to Carlos Denson, the Risk Management Center’s Director of Operations, the federal dam infrastructure provides a substantial benefit to the nation. “These structures protect the public from floods, provide reliable drinking water, generate clean reliable power, and provide water to irrigate crops across the country. The safety of these structures is important so that they can continue to deliver those benefits to society. The findings from the panel reinforce the stewardship that is currently being provided by the agencies and the commitment to continually improve safety across the nation,” said Denson.
USACE Headquarters Dam and Levee Branch Chief, Travis Tutka, provided his perspective on the report.
“When it comes to the management of our dams, public safety is our top priority. USACE conducts self-assessments of our programs and contracts external reviews periodically. This independent review was requested by congress to assess the use of risk-informed dam safety practices in each of the three federal agencies.” Overall, the review validated our efforts with some room for improvement. By maintaining openness and transparency of our programs with the public through reviews such as this, we hope to increase trust in our management of USACE dams on behalf of the nation.”
For the full digital report, visit: https://publibrary.planusace.us/document/3b6ce218-62d3-447b-c8af-04ad2d2af780
About the Risk Management Center:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – Institute for Water Resources, Risk Management Center (RMC) is a center of expertise. It was established in 2009 to improve management controls over infrastructure decisions, serve as an independent advisor to senior leadership, maintain and develop risk competencies, and ensure consistency in processes, application of criteria and decision-making. The mission of the RMC is to support Civil Works by managing and assessing risks for dams and levee systems across USACE, support dam and levee safety activities throughout USACE, and develop policies, methods, tools, and systems to enhance those activities. The RMC serves as a USACE-wide resource for risk-related tools, assessments, knowledge, and methods. It is intended to offer a national perspective as well as support routine District and Major Subordinate Command (MSC) dam and levee safety activities. The RMC offers services to support dam safety; levee safety; and the Modeling, Mapping, and Consequence (MMC) Production Center.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced the signing of a final rule to implement a new credit assistance program for dam safety projects.
The new program, named the Corps Water Infrastructure Financing Program, will offer credit assistance in the form of direct loans and loan guarantees for non-federal dam safety projects to maintain, upgrade and repair dams identified in the National Inventory of Dams. The program will accelerate non-federal investments in water resources infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost loans with flexible repayment options to creditworthy borrowers.
“By expanding the tools for infrastructure financing, the Corps Water Infrastructure Financing Program will accelerate completion of dam safety projects nationwide,” said Mr. Michael Connor, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. “This critical program will support local communities by improving dam safety, building resilience and providing financial savings for crucial infrastructure investments.”
The final rule, signed today by Connor, establishes the process by which USACE will administer credit assistance, including the assessment of fees. This rule also sets forth the policies and procedures that USACE will use for receiving, evaluating and approving applications, and for servicing and monitoring direct loans and loan guarantees. Priority will be given for projects serving economically disadvantaged communities through fee waivers and project financing up to 80% of the total project costs.
“The nation faces a significant challenge in financing the rehabilitation, improvement and expansion of aging civil works infrastructure, particularly dam infrastructure,” said Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ commanding general. “This program will help address this challenge by providing long-term, low-cost loans for dam safety projects.”
This is a significant milestone for USACE and represents a new and innovative way to support the nation’s investment in infrastructure, while reducing the reliance on federal funding. The CWIFP will provide significant savings to local taxpayers for infrastructure investment.
According to USACE, the program will provide approximately $7.5 billion in total project financing and support up to $15 billion of infrastructure investment nationwide.
This program was authorized under the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014, often referred to as the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014. Program funding and further statutory direction was provided in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in 2021.
The final rule will be posted in the Federal Register and will go into effect 30 days after it is posted. Upon going into effect, USACE will post a notice of funding availability, which will formally open the program and provide interested borrowers with instructions on the application process. For more information about CWIFP, visit https://www.usace.army.mil/CWIFP or contact the CWIFP Team at CWIFP@usace.army.mil or 612-518-0355.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works establishes policy direction and provides supervision of the Department of the Army functions relating to all aspects of the Civil Works Program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.