Critical infrastructure protections helping save dams in distress

What started as an ambitious plan to provide water, tame flooding and provide navigable waterways to a growing country has evolved, almost 200 years later, into an infrastructure system all its own. That system includes its own headaches, needs for adjustments, critics and advocates. Matt Alderton highlights some of the trickier aspects of dam infrastructure management and protection in a recent article. The National Park Service says that the federal government’s involvement in dam construction dates back to at least the 1820s and expanded after the Civil War when Congress authorized the US Army Corps of Engineers to build dams for storage on the upper reaches of the Mississippi River, and dams for navigation on the Ohio River. Now the Federal Bureau of Reclamation is on a mission to save many of these vital infrastructure projects, and they are leveraging the power of Autodesk software to do so, because as they note, what was once an asset could just as quickly become a liability if not properly maintained. California’s Oroville Dam is the perfect example.

“To avoid a similar calamity at 54-year-old Glen Canyon Dam, Reclamation is creating a 3D digital model of the dam and its hydropower plant. ‘Because this dam was built in the 1950s and early 60s, it was done without computers,’ Winslow says. Reclamation has approximately 10,000 hand-drafted drawings of Glen Canyon Dam – a good reference for understanding the facility’s composition but less valuable for managers seeking to understand the current and future state of the entire facility.”

Quick Dam Facts: 90,580 = the number of dams in the United States to date. 56 = average dam age 26 = number of “major” dams in Arkansas (major meaning the structure is at least 50 feet tall with a storage capacity of at least 5,000 acre feet)  

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