DamWatch – Using New Technology to Keep Dams Safe

Local conservation districts and NRCS are
using new technology to help monitor 12,000 dams across the nation that have been constructed
with assistance from the NRCS Watershed program. These dams provide flood control to many communities,
some of them provide water supplies for cities and irrigation and provide excellent recreation
and fishing and boating. These dams have been constructed over the
last 65 years and like any part of the infrastructure they need attention and need maintenance. This new technology that conservation districts
and NRCS are using is called DamWatch. Dam Watch is a patented internet based system
that will monitor these 12,000 dams for storms and be able to store data. This new technology has several features but
one of the main features is that it is tied into the National Weather Service radar system
so that the system will monitor how much rainfall each of the areas upstream from each of the
12,000 dams receives and when it indicates that a large rainfall has occurred that would
exceed the capacity of that dam it will send an automatic cell phone text and email to
predetermined people who are responsible for that dam that lets them know that that particular
dam had received enough rainfall that the secondary spillway could begin to function
and need attention so they can send people out to inspect that dam. Dam watches have been in place for a couple
of years the last year and half has been spent in getting all of the information loaded for
the 12,000 dams in terms of construction, drawings, emergency action plans, getting
everything set up for the thresholds to determine the maximum rainfall that each dam can occur,
that phase of the project is completed, there are right now about 800 users that are primarily
NRCS and some sponsors. The stage where we are at right now is encouraging
project sponsors and local conservation districts and municipalities that are responsible for
those dams to get signed up, get logged on and get to be an approved user so that they
can be trained in dam watch and they can have this new technology available the next time
a large rain comes or when the inspections are completed they can get those posted and
loaded. Since this information can be accessed from
any location if you have a computer tablet the user can go to the field and download
the information while they are in the field and get that information so they can use it
to access what the situation is. You can also use that to upload photos, videos and audio
files real time up to the system so people in a different office, and different locations
can also take a look at it and see what is happening real time to assist the people in
the field with evaluating the situation and determining what needs to be done. There is another feature in dam watch that
you can do simulations so as you do table top exercises for emergency action plans you
can do simulations on these so that everyone that is hooked up to the system can also receive
the alerts and then go into a training mode for how they would react. It also provides inundation areas that if
the dam in the unlikely event that the dam should fail it shows the area that would be
inundated downstream, it also can show the houses and businesses that might be impacted
with that and you can click on those triangles and it will upload a picture of the particular
house, the depth of flooding and also the time for the flood wave to get there. Another important feature of Dam watch is
that it provides a one stop location for storage of critical information such as emergency
action plans, construction drawings, inspection reports and that information that is needed
at a time of crisis if you get a large rain or just for routine inspection of deeds throughout
the year. That allows people to access this information from anyplace where there is a
computer with internet access. Dam watch is set up for use of the people
that are responsible for that dam. It’s not set up for the general public. The conservation
districts who are responsible for operation and maintenance, NRCS staff who is responsible
for providing technical assistance and some local emergency managers out there that could
use this information. Once they get the alerts, once they get the information they can assess
the situation in the field and if there is an emergency situation then they can go through
their normal mode of communicating that to the public.

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