Tag Archives: Geotechnical Engineering

Join Pare in Commemorating Dam Safety Awareness Day

By J. Matthew Bellisle, Senior Vice President of the Geotechnical Division of Pare Corporation and the Co-Chair of the Dam Management Committee of the Environmental Business Council of New England

Dam Safety Awareness Day was established to commemorate the lives lost in the Johnstown Flood. The tragedy occurred on May 31, 1889 when the South Fork Dam burst sending a flood of water that resulted in the destruction of 1,600 homes, $17 million in property damage (current value of approximately $425 million) and the deaths of 2,209 people (including the entirety of 99 families; of the deceased, 396 were children) in the valley below in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  While this is the worst dam failure in the United States it has become symbolic in our history.  Unfortunately it is not the only incident of dam failure.

As we remember the lives lost and the heroes who worked to minimize damage and save lives, we also must remember the lessons learned in regard to dam engineering. We need to put our own hubris aside and recognize the impact that these engineered structures have on our communities and environment.

This country—especially New England—grew due to the power harnessed by dams during the industrial revolution, by the water impounded for irrigation and water supply, and by the additional navigation afforded by strategically placed and engineered dams and locks.  The dams that have greatly impacted our nation come in a multitude of forms–from concrete and earthen structures impounding large reservoirs, small earthen embankments and structures creating irrigation ponds, hydro-electric structures providing sustainable energy, to historic masonry structures from a time long past.  Our communities are surrounded by over 87,000 dams throughout the United States, which are a marvelous testament to our ability to engineer our surroundings to enable productivity, health, safety, and energy.

As today’ dams provide increasing levels of flood protection, energy, water supply, and environmental resource areas to support our communities, we need to remember three things.

  • First, dams do deteriorate over time. It would be incorrect to assume that the condition of the dam at any point in time will continue to represent the condition of the dam at some point in the future. There also comes a time when a dam is no longer providing a benefit and it should be removed.  It is only through continued diligence, observation, and maintenance that dams, bridges, roadways, and other parts of our national infrastructure will continue to serve the needs of the nation.
  • Second, financial resources are needed for routine maintenance and long-term repairs. However, just because money has been spent on the dam recently, the need for continued inspection by qualified personnel is still paramount to the long term performance of the dam.
  • Third, we are all stakeholders in continuing dam safety.  Ongoing steps to develop and maintain emergency action plans and procedures require support from our local communities to enable efficient notification, response, and recovery.

As we commemorate the Johnstown Flood let us take comfort knowing that dedicated regulators, designers and owners also remember these events and are taking positive steps to mitigate such incidents. Advances in the study of dam engineering have led to enhancements in hydraulic and soil modeling, which in turn have improved our understanding of the integration of the engineered environment with the natural environment. With the support of local and federal regulations we continue to protect the environment and the public by identifying and repairing aging dams, and removing those structures that are unsafe or no longer serve a beneficial purpose.  Ignoring complacency, we are taking positive steps to improve this nation’s dams and support the resources, opportunities and public which are so dependent upon these sometimes invisible engineered structures.

To learn more about dam safety and flooding, please download the two ebooks (‘Living with Dams: Know Your Risks’ and “Living with Dams: Extreme Rainfall Events’ prepared by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) at  http://livingneardams.org/

The Removal of the Old Mill Dam along the Charles River in Bellingham, MA

By Allen R. Orsi, P.E. Managing Engineer at Pare Corporation and a member of the Association of State Dam Safety Officials

It is a wonderful feeling when a vision comes to fruition, especially when it has taken years for the project to be completed.  The removal of the Old Mill Dam in Bellingham, Massachusetts is a good example of what can be accomplished through strong project partnerships.   Pare Corporation and the Town of Bellingham began conversations in 2008 about the future of the Old Mill Dam, which was found to be in poor structural condition.  At the time, the dam was classified as a ‘significant hazard potential dam’ by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MADCR) Office of Dam Safety.

Upon completion of several studies and evaluation of the benefits of dam removal versus rehabilitation, it was decided that removing the obsolete dam would increase public safety, save taxpayer dollars, and improve the ecosystem along the river.

Pare worked very closely with the Town to prepare a grant application for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EOEEA) Dam and Seawall Repair or Removal Program to secure funding for the majority of the design and permitting of the project, as well as a no-interest loan to offset the cost of construction.

Pare also worked with the Town to apply for and receive priority project status through the Massachusetts Division of Ecological Restoration (DER).  Once funding was secured, Pare coordinated with DER to obtain environmental permits and draft dam removal plans that would minimize the impact of deconstruction on the environment.

For the project to be completed, Old Mill Pond was incrementally drained through partial demolition of the concrete spillway to allow for dam removal activity to be completed in a dewatered area.  Roughly 2,300 cubic yards of mercury-impacted sediment were removed from the pond and permanently disposed of onsite within a special containment berm constructed beyond the level of the post-dam removal 100-yr floodplain.  This approach saved significant costs to the Town associated with offsite disposal of the impacted sediment.  It also effectively removed 15 pounds of mercury from the riverine habitat.

Last week, temporary construction facilities were removed, allowing for the unrestricted flow of the river through this location for the first time in more than 150 years. Fish and other aquatic life are now able to move freely along this section of the Charles River and its tributaries, which will help restore a more robust ecosystem.

As this is the first dam that has been removed along the main stem of the Charles River, the Charles River Watershed Association hopes that the project will encourage other communities to consider dam removal and environmental restoration projects along the river.

The Return of Dams To The News Cycle

By J. Matthew Bellisle, Senior Vice President of the Geotechnical Division of Pare Corporation and the Co-Chair of the Dam Management Committee of the Environmental Business Council of New England

The recent events in California regarding the Oroville Dam have highlighted dams and how they impact our communities.  Like many of my colleagues, I have heard questions such as, “Why did the situation develop?”  “Why did it take so long to evacuate the downstream area?”  “Who is at fault?”  And the most frequent comment… “Why did the dam fail?”

First, due to the experience, efforts, and capabilities of those in positions of responsibility, the situation in Oroville has been stabilized.  Public officials worked tirelessly to mitigate the situation and ensure public safety throughout the emergency.

Second, I can only speculate when responding to questions about the structure of the dam, its maintenance, and its operation.  Answers to those questions will be provided as the waters recede, through forensic investigations and the review of historical records.

The question that most people are afraid to ask is:  “Can a similar scenario happen here in New England?”  Although our dams are smaller in this part of the county and, in the event of a potential failure would likely impact fewer people, the answer is “Yes.”  As one of the responding engineers, I remember well the week in October 2005 when a portion of downtown Taunton, MA was evacuated as an old mill dam threatened to release the flood waters resulting from nine days of record-breaking rainfall.  Our dams here in New England are integral to our communities.   They impound our drinking water, provide flood attenuation, and impact where and how we build.  But many are old—older than the Oroville Dam.

In New England, we have an appreciation for dams and the benefits they provide, while understanding the hazards that come with those benefits.   There are active Dam Safety programs in each New England state that have prescribed inspection schedules based upon the hazard potential for each dam.  Dedicated and knowledgeable dam safety professionals regularly complete inspections to ensure public safety. There are responsible dam owners that maintain their dams on a regular basis.

Many of the dam owners for whom we work understand the problems associated with the age of their dams.  Some have embarked on multi-year programs to improve their entire inventory of dams. Some have instituted a program of upgrades to meet design standards that were not in place when the dam was originally constructed.  Others have established programs to remove dams that are no longer beneficial and provide flood attenuation, water supply, and recreation through other means

These proactive steps are being taken to improve the condition of each dam, protect the environment, safeguard the resources around the dam, and shield the downstream public.  So as budget requests for dam repairs are presented, when emergency action plans are developed, and when disaster drills are conducted, remember the 160,000 individuals sitting in their cars below the Oroville Dam as they evacuated.  Please support these dam safety initiatives, as they will ultimately protect the communities where we work and live.

 

The Results Are In!

By Danielle Goudreau,  Engineer at Pare 

The results from the Pare Climate Change Survey are in!

Pare’s Climate Change Committee would like to thank all who participated in our survey.  We appreciate your thoughtful responses, and have explored answer patterns and concerns below.

Climate change is a very important topic with many differing opinions about causes, implications, and even its existence. However, it’s been established that in order to combat climate change, it will require a broad consensus, and this survey did a great job of establishing how close to that consensus we currently are.

Among survey participants, there is a consensus that climate change is happening and that it is concerning.  It wasn’t surprising (based on the title of the survey) that a majority of respondents believe climate change is occurring.  Approximately 95% of the respondents believe climate change is occurring, 3% do not believe it is occurring. 2% did not express an opinion.  The aspect of climate change participants find most concerning is storm frequency and/or intensity (33%) followed by sea level rise (23%) and ecological changes (20%).

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As far as whether or not we can reduce climate change, there is a split consensus.  Approximately 42% of respondents believe that we are able to reduce the effects of climate change. However the majority of participants (about 50), believe we can’t or won’t do anything to change the effects.  Approximately half of the respondents who believe we can reduce climate change also believe we will make changes to reduce the effects.

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Who should be responsible for mandating changes that may reduce climate change? One third of respondents believe that the Federal Government should be implementing regulations.

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Contest winner Ann Cote at Bryant University provided us with an optimistic view of the future (albeit with a major caveat):    “Only once society is educated on the topic and the seriousness of it, will ideas come forward and the passion to correct the issue surface.”

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Thanks to your participation, Pare’s engineers are now even more equipped to assist in providing clarity and recommendations to the state of the consensus among those associated with or working in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction.

 

And The Winner Is…..

“Back to Nature” by Allen Orsi, P.E., a Managing Engineer in Pare’s Geotechnical Division, is the winner of the 5th Annual Earth Day Photo Contest. This year, Pare employees were asked to submit a photo inspired by the Earth Day 2015 theme: Take a stand, so that together we can show the world a new direction. It’s our turn to lead. Our world leaders will follow.

The 2015 photo contest was incredibly close. There was a tie between photos for most of the week, but in the end, “Back to Nature” won by two votes!

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The Bartlet Pond Dam, originally constructed in 1814, was a barrier to the natural ecology of the Wekepeke Brook for nearly 200 years. During that time, the presence of the dam resulted in increased water temperatures, lower Dissolved Oxygen, disconnected environments, and other environmental detriments. In 2014, the dam was removed, restoring the area to a natural stream channel and allowing for the natural healing of the ecosystem to begin, which will benefit both the Wekepeke as well as the Nashua River, located shortly downstream. In recognition of this achievement, state and local officials gathered to celebrate the project and other environmental initiatives being supported financially through programs being offered by EOEEA. Attendance at the event demonstrated the state’s commitment and progress in restoring our natural environment; the new growth embodies the power of nature to overcome man’s interference in the cycle of nature.

Congratulations to our winner, Allen Orsi. Allen will receive a gift card to Briggs Garden & Home.

You can check out the rest of the photo entries here.

A special thanks to all who contributed to this year’s Earth Day Photo Contest. This year’s entrants were:

#1 Andrew Chagnon – Synthetic Turf Field, Marshfield
#2 Allen Orsi – Back to Nature
#3 Dave Easterbrooks – Save the Bay Swim
#4  Marc Weller – Eco-Machine
#5 Lauren Hastings – Tread Lightly
#6  Tim Thies – S-s-s-s-s-s-springtime Buddies
#7  Dave McCombs – Solitude
#8 Nick Romano – Koi Pond
#9  Victoria Howland – Living Machine
#10  Mel Hebert – Aurora Borealis
#11  Brandon Blanchard – Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?
#12  Cari Orsi – Living Green
#13 Scott Lindgren –  Follow us, together we will lead.