5 family-friendly water and wastewater field trips in New England

Summer is here, and with it comes long, lazy days, school vacation, and, of course, family trips. When the beaches, amusement parks, and movie theaters start to get stale, why not take a water or wastewater field trip to explore the inner workings of our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure? We’ve assembled five excellent water and wastewater field trips that are right here in beautiful New England. These trips provide STEM (Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology) education while also being engaging and fascinating. And these trips aren’t just for budding engineers. Half of all STEM jobs do not require a college degree and pay higher than non-STEM jobs with similar educational requirements.

Top 5 Family-Friendly Water and Wastewater Field Trips in New England

Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant

1. Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, Boston, MA — Operated by the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA)

The MWRA offers tours of its Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant on Tuesdays and Fridays from April through November. All tours begin at 9:30 a.m. and are open to adults and kids in grades 7+. But the treatment facility isn’t the only attraction at Deer Island. With 60 acres of natural open space, Deer Island offers plenty to do for the entire family, including five miles of public walkways and trails for strolling, jogging, sightseeing, picnicking, fishing, and cycling. There are ten landscaped overlooks with sweeping views of the Boston skyline and islands, handicapped accessible paths, and low impact development (LID) features including low-maintenance, native plant species. The public access area is open year-round, from sunrise to sunset. https://www.mwra.com/03sewer/html/sewdi_access.htm

Waterworks Museum, Boston, MA
Waterworks Museum, Boston, MA

2. Waterworks Museum, Boston, MA

The Waterworks Museum is located on the site of the original Chestnut Hill reservoir and pumping station and provides regional information on clean water, health, engineers, and architecture. In addition to providing the history of waterworks in the City of Boston, the museum’s Great Engines Hall houses three historic, steam-powered pumping engines, and walking tours of the reservoir itself are available. The architecturally breathtaking museum is open Wednesday – Sunday from 11am-4pm year-round, with extended “Waterworks Wednesday” hours until 9pm from April through November. Waterworks Wednesdays feature authors, concerts, and guest speakers in addition to regular tours and learning opportunities. https://waterworksmuseum.org

Ben & Jerry's "Chunkinator" converts ice cream waste into energy
Ben & Jerry’s “Chunkinator” converts ice cream waste into energy

3. Ben & Jerry’s, Waterbury, VT

From its humble beginnings in a warehouse in Burlington, VT, Ben & Jerry’s has grown to a highly successful global corporation. And while the company has exponentially increased in both size and reach, it has remained loyal to its local roots. So when it was determined that the waste created in their Waterbury, Vermont location would overload the local wastewater treatment facility, they instead decided to funnel it to two of their local dairies where it is processed in a methane digester along with other farm waste. The result? Enough biomass energy to power the farms. Unfortunately, tours of the methane digester are not available. But that’s OK, because Ben & Jerry’s offers tours of its ice cream manufacturing facility, and these tours include education on the dairy waste – as well as ice cream samples. https://www.benjerry.com/about-us/factory-tours

BONUS: Building on their commitment to green energy, Ben & Jerry’s is the first ice cream company in the world to power one of its manufacturing plants using its own waste. Located in Hellendoorn, Netherlands, the “Chunkinator” is a BIOPAQ®AFR Biodigester containing over 24 billion natural micro-organisms that turn the plant’s own ice cream waste and wastewater into biogas that fuels the plant. To date, the brightly-painted Chunkinator has produced enough power to make over 16 million pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. So if you happen to be in the Netherlands this summer, be sure to swing by to check it out! https://brightfuture.unilever.com/stories/423955/THE-CHUNKINATOR–Turning-ice-cream-into-energy.aspx

Maine's stunning Sebago Lake offers something for everyone
Maine’s stunning Sebago Lake offers something for everyone

4. Sebago Lake Water Treatment Facility, Standish, ME

Maine’s Sebago Lake Region is a popular summer destination that offers camping, fishing, boating, hiking, shopping, dining, live music, theatre, and much more, and families travel from all over the country to enjoy the region’s pristine, natural beauty. While you are there, you can add a little education into the family trip by visiting the Portland Water District’s Sebago Lake Water Treatment Facility. Tours are available on the first and third Thursdays of each month, beginning at 9:30am and lasting approximately two hours, and include both the facility and the lab. Due to the technical, complex nature presented, tours are recommended for high school age and older. Located on a 10-acre site in Standish, Maine, the state-of-the-art facility utilizes screening, ozonation, UV light treatment, chloramination, fluoridation, and corrosion control. https://www.pwd.org/tours

After visiting the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority, be sure to stop by beautiful Cove Island Park
After visiting the Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority, be sure to stop by beautiful Cove Island Park

5. Stamford Water Pollution Control Authority (WCPA), Stamford, CT

The Stamford Water Pollution Control Facility processes wastewater from Stamford and Darien, CT and discharges the treated water into the Stamford Harbor. The site has been treating wastewater since 1900, with the first plant being built in 1943. Upgraded in 1976 and again in 2006, the facility is manned 24/7/365. In response to multiple requests for tours, WPCA began offering regular public tours in 2013. Held on the second Friday of each month at 12:30pm (weather permitting), the tour includes classroom education on the wastewater treatment process followed by a walking tour of the plant to see it in full operation. Total tour time is approximately one and a half hours. In addition, comprehensive student or group educational tours for all ages can be scheduled in advance for Monday through Friday between the hours of 8am and 3pm. https://www.stamfordwpca.org/public-outreach.aspx

BONUS: While visiting Stamford, families can also visit Cove Island Park, a beautiful 83-acre beach and park on Long Island Sound that offers plenty of space for walking, biking, picnicking, or swimming, or they can even catch a ferry over to New York City.

Summer in New England is simply perfect for day tripping, and the education provided by a water or wastewater treatment plant tour is invaluable. So check out one (or more) of these five water and wastewater field trips, and let us know what you think. Happy summer!

Ribbon Cutting on New $4.1 Million Wastewater Treatment Plant in Canaan, VT

l to r: April Hyde, Chief Operator, Town of Canaan; Greg Noyes, Canaan VT Board Member; Chris Hebert, Project Manager, The General Contractor - Daniel Hebert, Inc.; Gary Leach, P.E., Vice President, The Engineer - Tata & Howard, Inc.; Noreen Labrecque, Canaan VT Town Clerk; Ted Brady, State Director, The Funding Agency - USDA; Rita Hibbard, Stewartstown NH Town Clerk; Hasen Burns, Stewartstown NH Board Member
l to r: April Hyde, Chief Operator, Town of Canaan; Greg Noyes, Canaan VT Board Member; Chris Hebert, Project Manager, The General Contractor – Daniel Hebert, Inc.; Gary Leach, P.E., Vice President, The Engineer – Tata & Howard, Inc.; Noreen Labrecque, Canaan VT Town Clerk; Ted Brady, State Director, The Funding Agency – USDA; Rita Hibbard, Stewartstown NH Town Clerk; Hasen Burns, Stewartstown NH Board Member

The towns of Canaan, VT and Stewartstown, NH celebrated the completion of their shared $4.1 million wastewater treatment plant with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday, June 25, in Canaan. The total cost of the facility improvements was $4.12 million and the towns received $2.41 million in grant money as well as a $1.69 million low interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development. The new system replaces a decades-old facility that was costly to operate and did not meet state and federal water quality standards.

Tata & Howard, Inc. provided complete consulting engineering services for the design and construction of the wastewater treatment facility project that consisted of a complete upgrade of four pump stations and the 0.185-MGD, 3-cell lagoon wastewater treatment facility. The upgrades provide the towns with a state-of-the-art, reliable wastewater treatment facility that meets stringent Effluent Discharge limits to the Connecticut River and allows for a more efficient treatment process. The new influent screening and grit removal processes extend the life of the treatment facility components, and septage receiving allows for additional income and also provides service to the other residents of the town that are not on public sewer. The design incorporated numerous energy efficient features, including variable-frequency drives on all motors and aeration blowers, a wood pellet boiler for heat, energy efficient windows, and insulated concrete block walls, resulting in a reduction in annual operation and maintenance costs. The pump stations were upgraded to eliminate the operator from entering below grade structures and allow for low-cost future replacement.

Dry Cleaners, Solvents, and Health, Oh My

Dry cleaning can be a dirty business.

dry_cleaner_shirtsA staple of American corporate and family life for decades, dry cleaning poses environmental and health concerns due to the chemicals used in the dry cleaning process when not handled properly. Since the 1960’s, the majority of dry cleaners have utilized perchloroethylene, or perc, for their operations. Perc, which is also used to degrease metal machinery and in the manufacture of consumer products, is a known environmental and health hazard. While improved operational standards and modernized equipment have reduced impacts to soil and groundwater, there is still the risk of accidental spills, leaks, and contamination.

Human risks include non-cancerous effects such as kidney, liver, neurological, immune, and reproductive system damage, and risk increases proportionally to the amount and duration of exposure. High levels of brief perc exposure often produce symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, headaches, confusion, nausea, and skin, lung, eye, and mucous membrane irritation, while long-term exposure can cause more serious problems. After laboratory testing of rats and mice as well as studies of dry cleaning industry workers, EPA has concluded that perc is a likely human carcinogen, and has included it as part of a category of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It is important to note, however, that there has been no indication of increased cancer risk from simply wearing dry cleaned clothing.

Tata & Howard tests for perc contamination

Perc can enter the air, water, and ground during the cleaning, purification, and waste disposal phases of dry cleaning. Perc is released into the air through windows and vents, and, after a few weeks, breaks down into toxic and ozone-destroying chemicals. Perc that enters the ground through spills and leaks is highly toxic to plants, and, because perc does not bind well to soil, it travels very quickly into surface water, groundwater, and drinking water supplies. Even the smallest amount of perc can contaminate a large volume of water and be toxic to marine life, and EPA has set a limit on the amount of perc that is allowed to be in drinking water due to its toxicity. In addition to being detected in air, soil, and water, perc has also been found in food and breast milk. In fact, the dangers of perc are so plainly evident that, in 2007, the state of California passed legislation requiring the total phase-out of perc by 2023. In response to this legislation, the number of statewide traditional dry cleaners has dropped from 4,000 to less than 2,000 while the number of chemical-free dry cleaners, dubbed “wet cleaners,” has tripled.

Unfortunately, studies have indicated that 75% of operational dry cleaning establishments as well as countless former dry cleaning sites are contaminated. Costs to mitigate contaminated sites can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and many dry cleaners have simply been unable to afford the cost of cleanup. In an effort to assist dry cleaning business owners with these significant costs, 13 states have implemented programs to help with the cost of cleanup, and many more are considering such programs.

Established in 1998, the State Coalition for Remediation of Drycleaners (SCRD) is supported by the U.S. EPA Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation and is comprised of representatives of states with dry cleaner remediation programs in place. The funding programs are as follows:states_dry_cleaner_funding

  • Alabama Drycleaning Environmental Response Trust Fund (DERTF)
  • Connecticut Drycleaning Establishment Remediation Program
  • Florida Drycleaning Solvent Cleanup Program
  • Illinois Drycleaners Environmental Response Trust Fund
  • Kansas Drycleaning Program
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Drycleaner Fund
  • Missouri Drycleaner Environmental Response Trust (DERT) Fund
  • North Carolina Dry-Cleaning Solvent Cleanup Act Program
  • Oregon Dry Cleaner Program
  • South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: Drycleaning Restoration & Technical Assistance Section
  • Tennessee Drycleaner Environmental Response Program
  • Texas Dry Cleaning Remediation Program
  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Dry Cleaning Environmental Response Program

States without specific dry cleaner programs may participate in SCRD as “Represented States” if they have active remediation programs under other authorities. Currently, Alaska, California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Virginia are SCRD Represented States. In addition to these states, several others, including Massachusetts, are considering similar legislation. More information on these programs and resources can be found here.

With the increased burden of toxins on our environment, and with limited funding for remediation of dry cleaner sites, finding the most cost-effective and efficient means of mitigating site contamination is paramount. This includes second opinions, alternative mitigation techniques, and, in instances of pre-existing contamination, litigation. In the end, the most important factor is improving our health and the environment in which we live by reducing or eliminating toxic chemicals from the ground, water, and air. California may just have the right idea.

NHDES Leak Detection Survey Grant Applications Due

NHDES new typeNHDES Leak Detection Survey Grant Application for Community Water Systems, Water Division/Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) is pleased to announce the opening of the grant application period for the 2015/2016 Community Water System Leak Detection Survey grant. Applications will be accepted through 4:00 pm on July 17, 2015. Community water systems in New Hampshire are encouraged to send the below grant application to NHDES for consideration to receive a free acoustic leak detection survey during the 2016 field season. Proactive leak detection and repair can reduce a water system’s pumping and treatment costs, provide an opportunity to better manage and prioritize system projects, and protect water supply quality and quantity.

Leaks may be found on water mains, service lines, hydrants and valves. While some leaks are easy to identify as they are visible, there are many leaks that go unseen – from smaller leaks to leaks in well-drained soils to those that find their way underground into a storm drain. Through a competitive bid process, a professional leak detection specialist will be retained by NHDES to identify these difficult-to-find leaks using mechanical and electronic listening equipment to detect leakage sounds and pinpoint leaks.

To be considered for a leak detection survey, by no later than July 17, 2015 by 4:00 PM, please submit a complete grant application to Kelsey Vaughn via e-mail at kelsey.vaughn@des.nh.gov or by mail:

NHDES – Drinking Water & Groundwater Bureau
Water Use & Conservation Program
c/o Kelsey Vaughn
29 Hazen Drive, PO Box 95
Concord, NH 03302-0095

Leak detection is one component of a complete water system asset management program, and is one of the quickest ways to recover lost water and reduce revenue losses. However, in combination with a leak detection program, a water audit can further help water utilities reduce water and revenue losses, make better use of water resources, and reduce or eliminate the need for upgrades and expansions. For more information on water audits, please click here.

You may download the NHDES grant application here: NHDES Leak Detection Survey Grant Application

Tata & Howard Raises Funds for Camp Sunshine

Tata & Howard Raises Funds for Camp Sunshine

flip flop day camp sunshine
Collin Stuart, Heidi White, Brooke Cotta, Marie Rivers, Molly Coughlin, Amanda Cavaliere, Karen Gracey, Brittany Colcord, Jenna Rzasa, and Matt St. Pierre pose with their flip flops

New England-based engineering firm participates in National Flip Flop Day to support Maine camp

Employee-owners from Tata & Howard, Inc., a leading innovator in water, wastewater, stormwater, and environmental services engineering solutions, participated in National Flip Flop Day on June 19th. The holiday, which falls on the third Friday in June each year, was started nine years ago by Tropical Smoothie Café in order to raise funds to benefit Camp Sunshine, a retreat in Maine for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Tata & Howard team members participated in their own version of National Flip Flop Day in which employee-owners were able to wear flip flops to work in exchange for a donation to Camp Sunshine. 100% of donations were matched by Tata & Howard’s Philanthropy Committee.

“With offices throughout New England, Tata & Howard is committed to finding ways to give back to the community in which we live and work,” said Jenna Rzasa, P.E., Vice President of Tata & Howard. “Maine’s Camp Sunshine provides both solace and joy to severely ill children and their families, and we are deeply honored to support their efforts.”

Located in beautiful Casco, Maine, Camp Sunshine is the only organization in the nation that focuses on not only addressing the effects of a life-threatening illness on the child who is ill, but also the entire family. Surrounded by professional staff within the breathtaking grounds of Camp Sunshine, families receive a reprieve from the stress of having a child with an illness and spend a week just having fun together.

To date, National Flip Flop Day has raised over $2 million for Camp Sunshine.

10 Tips for a Low-Maintenance, Eco-Friendly Backyard

Protecting the environment has never been more important, and it can start right in your own eco-friendly backyard. Incorporating eco-friendly design and maintenance into your landscaping will not only help to save the environment, but will also provide a beautiful, inviting yard that is simple to maintain. Incorporate the 10 tips below into your landscape design and soon you will be enjoying a low-maintenance yard that also just happens to make the world a little bit greener.

poppy lavendar garden
Despite its name, California Poppy is native to New England, as is Lavender

1. Choose native plants

When choosing plants and trees for your yard, look for flora native to your area. Native trees and plants provide habitat for and attract birds, butterflies, and other beneficial local wildlife, and are acclimated to local rainfall amounts and climate. Once established, native plants require very little maintenace because they are naturally resistant to local pests and disease. Because they do not need fertilizers, pesticides, or supplemental watering, they are easy and inexpensive to maintain and are environmentally friendly. For a complete native wildflower guide searchable by color and location, click here.

Mulch soaks in rainwater and reduces the amount of grassy lawn

2. Mulch

Organic mulch such as wood chips, bark, leaves, and pine needles provides a host of benefits. Mulch regulates soil temperature and retains moisture, helping to keep plantings alive and healthy, and it also inhibits weed growth in flowerbeds, allowing for easier weeding. As it breaks down, organic mulch has the added bonus of adding nutrients to the soil. Mulching under trees to the drip line not only helps to retain moisture in the root area, but also reduces the footprint of your lawn. Grass lawns are water guzzlers, and incorporating mulch throughout your landscape can reduce outdoor water usage by as much as 50%. To save even more water, consider completely eliminating the lawn…

White clover lawns are attractive, require little mowing and no fertilizer, and prevent soil compaction

3. Plant ground cover instead of grass

Ground cover has many advantages over grassed lawns. Ground cover hugs the ground and requires little to no mowing, no additional watering, and no pesticides or herbicides. For shady areas, moss makes a beautiful lawn. Moss is green even in the high heat of summer, and feels wonderful under bare feet. Clover is an excellent groundcover for lawns in full sun. It stays green during times of drought, is sweet smelling, feels soft and cushiony underfoot, and helps to prevent soil compaction. If you wish to provide a habitat for bees, you can allow your clover lawn to bloom to attract them. If not, don’t worry – just give your clover lawn an occasional mowing to both promote growth and keep the bees away. Creeping perennials may also be used for groundcover lawns, many of which smell wonderful, need little maintenance, and feel soft underfoot.

Mowing higher promotes a healthier lawn
Mowing higher promotes a healthier lawn

4. Keep your grass high and dry

When mowing, leave the grass higher (cut no more than a third of the total blade length at a time) and mow more frequently. Your lawn will retain more water and be healthier. Also, leave your grass clippings on the lawn. Grass clippings are 75-85% water, rich in nitrogen, and will keep your lawn moist and healthy. If you really can’t bear leaving the clippings on the lawn, you can discard them in your new compost bin…

Composting provides rich, nutritious lawn and garden fertilizer that costs nothing

5. Start composting

Composting reduces the amount of garbage we produce and also produces natural, free fertilizer. All you need to start making your own compost is a warm, partly sunny area and some soil. If you wish to keep your compost pile out of sight, you can easily install a compost bin. In your designated area, add a mix of household and garden waste including fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, newspapers, wood shavings, weeds, and cardboard. This mix will provide the right environment for compost-making bugs, and within six to nine months, you will have rich, nutritious compost ready for use in your garden. Note: do not discard any animal scraps into your compost. For a complete list of compostable items, click here.

A rain barrel is an easy and inexpensive way to harvest rainwater

6. Harvest rainwater

Harvesting rainwater is one of the simplest ways to green up your landscape. Harvested rainwater is used to water plants, flowers, and vegetable gardens, greatly reducing the amount of outdoor household water usage. It also captures stormwater runoff from roofs and gutters, which prevents pollution from entering our water supply. Whether you choose to use rain barrels, cisterns, or rain chains, you will be greatly improving your water footprint with the use of a rainwater harvesting system.

Terracing prevents erosion and stormwater runoff

7. Use terraces on slopes

Not only are steep slopes difficult to mow and maintain, they also cause erosion and excessive stormwater runoff, two environmental concerns. However, terracing is an effective and attractive solution to prevent both erosion and runoff. Terracing involves leveling off sections of a steep slope into flat, planted areas that are perfect for flower or herb gardens, or for shrubs and mulch. These flat, planted areas allow rainwater to soak into the beds instead of allowing it to flow down the slope. While they can be somewhat costly to install, terraces are a beautiful and beneficial addition to landscapes.

Rain gardens add beauty and function to your natural landscape

8. Plant rain gardens

Planted specifically where rainwater habitually pools, rain gardens are attractive landscaping elements that capture and filter stormwater. Utilizing native, flood-resistant plants and loosely packed, deep soils, they are able to absorb large amounts of rainwater and filter out pollutants. In addition, rain gardens have the added bonus of decreasing the surface area of your lawn while providing inexpensive, low-maintenance, and appealing landscaping.

Organic fertilizer is a better option for your family and for the environment

9. Eliminate or minimize the use of fertilizers

Standard lawn care, such as the type purchased at any local hardware store, involves dumping large amounts of chemicals, many simply not needed, onto the lawn. Dubbed “weed and feed,” these quick-release fertilizers and herbicides strip the soil of its nutrients and promote lawn disease, making the lawn dependent on the very chemicals that caused its damaged condition in the first place. A better option is to utilize organic fertilizer, and then use only as much as you actually need (typically this is less than half of what the manufacturer advises). Be sure to sweep up and dispose of any fertilizer that lands on paved or other impervious surfaces, and if you have a well for your drinking water supply, be sure to avoid fertilizing any areas in close proximity to or uphill from it. The best option is to completely eliminate the use of fertilizer and instead add compost and organic matter into your soil, aerate regularly, mow high, and incorporate moss and groundcover into your lawn.

While not practical for everyone, chickens provide grub control, aeration, and fertilization for lawns

10. Use natural pest control and herbicides

Pesticides have long been known to be detrimental to both the environment and our health. DDT was outlawed in the U.S. in 1972, and Agent Orange is still causing health issues for Vietnam veterans and the Vietnamese population 40 years after the war. In addition, pesticides have recently been linked to the decimation of the bee population, which even the White House and the EPA have acknowledged is cause for concern. The good news is that Integrated Pest Management (IPM) controls unwanted pests in a way that is both sustainable and safe. IPM involves a combination of techniques such as hand-removal of weeds and insects, attracting beneficial insects such as lacewings and praying mantises, selecting native plants that are naturally resistant, and utilizing natural insecticides such as insecticidal soaps and oil sprays for mites, aphids, and mealybugs, and milky spore bacteria for grubs. Slugs can be caught by sinking yogurt cups filled with beer or milk into the ground or by leaving hollowed out grapefruit halves around your plants, and aphids and mites can readily be managed with ladybugs. For those with a truly rural bent, chickens are natural predator of ticks, and, if left free to roam, will gobble up lawn grubs while aerating — and fertilizing — the lawn.

Natural, holistic backyards protect our environment, save money, and, after initial implementation, are easily maintained with minimal effort. Follow these 10 tips and you will soon have a beautiful backyard that requires little maintenance, leaving you time to relax in your hammock knowing that you’ve helped make the world a greener place.

T&H’s Tom Morgan presented with Fuller Award at ACE15

T&H’s Tom Morgan receives the George Warren Fuller Award during ACE15 on June 10, 2015

On Wednesday, June 10, 2015, during the American Water Works Association (AWWA) 2015 Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE15) in Anaheim, California, Tata & Howard’s Thomas R. Morgan, P.E., BCEE, was presented with the George Warren Fuller Award for the New England section.

George Warren Fuller Awards are presented annually by the AWWA to the sections’ selected members for their distinguished service to the water supply field in commemoration of the sound engineering skill, brilliant diplomatic talent, and constructive leadership which characterized the life of George Warren Fuller. Tom was presented with an award plaque and pin at the Fuller Award Society Breakfast held during ACE15. Each awardee becomes a member of the George Warren Fuller Award Society of the AWWA. The annual meeting of the society is held at the Fuller Award Society Breakfast at the AWWA Annual Conference and Exposition.

Dam Safety in the United States

What are dams?

Oroville Dam is an earthfill embankment dam on the Feather River east of the city of Oroville, California and is the tallest dam in the country.
Oroville Dam is an earthfill embankment dam on the Feather River east of the city of Oroville, California and is the tallest dam in the country.

In general terms, a dam is any structure that obstructs or converts the flow of water in rivers and streams, and they frequently serve more than one purpose. Dams store water to compensate for fluctuations in river flow, and they also provide irrigation, hydropower, drinking water, flood control, and support for recreational activities. There are four main types of dams, and dams are often a combination of these different types:

Embankment dams are typically constructed from natural earth materials such as rock and compacted soil, and are therefore far less expensive than concrete dams. Therefore, not surprisingly, more than 80% of all large dams in the United States are embankment dams. Typically used to retain water across wide rivers, embankment dams have a triangular profile and an impervious core and are termed “earthfill” or “rockfill” depending on whether they are primarily comprised of earth or rock.

Gravity dams are constructed of concrete or stone masonry and span narrow river valleys with firm bedrock. They are designed to hold back water by simply using the weight of the dam alone to resist the horizontal water load pushing against it. Each section of the gravity dam is stable on its own, independent of any other dam section.

The Hoover Dam is a massive arch-gravity dam that was constructed during the Great Depression, and the project’s success helped usher several decades of major water projects funded by the U.S. government.

While arch dams are also constructed of concrete, they differ from gravity dams in that they are designed to transfer water loads to adjacent rock formations. Arch dams are constructed only in narrow canyons with strong rock walls that are able to resist the arch pressure at the foundation and sides of the dam. Arch dams are thin and require less material than any other type of dam.

Buttress dams are hollow gravity dams with a solid upstream side that is supported by a series of buttresses on the downstream side. Constructed of reinforced concrete, buttress dam walls are straight or curved and are extremely heavy, pushing the dam into the ground.

Dams in the U.S.

In the United States, there are approximately 84,000 dams. The average age of these dams is 52 years old, and by 2020, over 70% of our nation’s dams will be over 50 years old, which is the widely-accepted longevity of most dams. In addition, the number of high-hazard dams, which are dams whose failure would likely cause the loss of life, is on the rise. Currently there are over 14,000 high-hazard dams nationwide, with another 13,000 being labeled significant-hazard, meaning their failure would cause significant economic loss. There are over 4,000 deficient dams, meaning they are at serious risk of failure, and 2,000 of these deficient dams are also high-hazard. The cost to repair these dangerous dams is estimated to be about $21 billion.

Many of our dams were originally constructed as low-hazard dams, which have more lenient design criteria due to their location in non-developed areas, typically agricultural. However, with the nation’s population growth and extensive development, these dams are now located in populated areas and considered high-hazard. This trend is expected to continue as population steadily increases.

The Johnstown Flood, known as the Great Flood of 1889, occurred on May 31, 1889 after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles upstream of the town of Johnstown, PA. The dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall, unleashing 20 million tons of water from the reservoir known as Lake Conemaugh. With a flow rate that temporarily equalled that of the Mississippi River, the flood killed 2,209 people. National Dam Safety Day is celebrated on May 31 every year in memory of this flood.
The Johnstown Flood occurred on May 31, 1889 after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles upstream of the town of Johnstown, PA. The dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall. With a flow rate that temporarily equalled that of the Mississippi River, the flood killed 2,209 people and decimated the town (Main Street shown in photo). National Dam Safety Day is celebrated on May 31 every year in memory of this flood.

The federal government owns only 3,225 — about 4% — of our nation’s dams. The remaining dams, over two-thirds of which are privately owned, fall under the jurisdiction of state dam inspection programs, with no federal oversight or regulation. State dam safety programs provide the permitting, inspection, and recommendations, along with enforcement authority, for 80% of our nation’s dams. Only one state, Alabama, completely lacks a dam safety regulatory program, but the rest are sorely underfunded and understaffed. For example, the average number of dams per dam safety inspector is 207. It is indeed daunting that dam safety programs are largely responsible for public safety, yet lack the resources to effectively provide that safety.

What causes dam failure?

  • Overtopping causes 34% of all dam failures. Inadequate spillway design, blocked spillways, settlement of the dam crest, and floods exceeding dam capacity are all causes of overtopping.
  • Foundation defects such as slope instability and settlement cause about 30% of all dam failures.
  • Piping, resulting in internal erosion caused by seepage, causes 20% of all U.S. dam failures.
  • The remaining 16% of dam failures are the result of other causes including structural failure of materials, inadequate maintenance, settlement and cracking, and deliberate acts of sabotage.

What can we do?

Of the 14,726 high-hazard dams in the country, only 8,854 have EAPs in place
Of the 14,726 high-hazard dams in the country, only 8,854 have EAPs in place

The 2010 Iowa Lake Delhi dam failure cost our economy about $170 million between damages and economic losses, and the 2006 Kaloko Reservoir Dam failure in Hawaii killed seven people. To make matters worse, the Kaloko dam was over 100 years old and had never once been inspected prior to its failure. Our dams have been given a “D” rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2013 Infrastructure Report Card, and the ASCE has recommended steps to take to improve that rating, one of which is the development of Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) for 100% of our nation’s high-hazard dams by 2017. Only 66% currently have EAPs.

Having effective EAPs at all high-hazard, and most significant-hazard, dams in the United States is the most important step in reducing the risk for loss of life and property damage from dam failures, and it is absolutely critical that deficient high-hazard dams have updated EAPs in place. To that end, Tata & Howard has been working with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) this spring to perform over 40 dam inspections and update over 30 EAPs.

T&H VP Sal Longo, P.E., assisted CT DEEP with the inspection of over 40 dams this spring.
T&H assisted CT DEEP with the inspection of over 40 dams this spring. Shown above is Vice President Sal Longo, P.E., during an inspection.

Besides maintaining EAPs for high-hazard dams, ASCE recommends the following steps to address our nation’s dam infrastructure:

  • Reauthorize and fully fund the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP), which is a partnership of the states, federal agencies, and other stakeholders that encourages individual and community responsibility for dam safety.
  • Establish a national dam rehabilitation and repair funding program to cost share repairs to publicly owned, nonfederal, high-hazard dams.
  • Implement a national public awareness campaign to educate individuals on the location and condition of dams in their area.
  • Encourage incentives to governors and state legislatures to provide sufficient resources and regulatory authorities to their dam safety programs.
  • Require federal agencies that own, operate, or regulate dams to meet the standards of Federal Guidelines for Dam Safety.

In addition to local and federal oversight and regulation, there are a number of steps that the public can take to minimize the risks associated with dam failure:

  • Know your risk. Find out if you live in a dam breach inundation zone by contacting your local emergency management agency or by contacting your state dam safety program (www.damsafety.org).
  • Know your role. Know the dams in your area where you live and work, and be aware of potential maintenance issues and report them to authorities immediately. Dam owners have the responsibility to maintain their dams and to have an EAP, especially for high-hazard dams, and should work with the federal or state regulator to comply with safety standards.
  • Take action. Inform your friends and neighbors about the benefits and risks associated with dams and have an evacuation route in place for your family and/or business should a dam fail. If you live below a dam, it is imperative that you maintain flood insurance.

In conclusion

Dams are an integral part of our infrastructure, providing many important benefits. A large percentage of our nation’s dams are in need of repair and updating, and our high-hazard dams are of particular concern. It is critical that all of us, including the federal government, states, communities, engineers, and private dam owners, work together to promote dam safety and education. Our future depends on it.

For more information on dam safety, please visit https://www.fema.gov/dam-safety#


EPA Issues 2015 MSGP for Industrial Stormwater Discharge


Photo by Roger Winstead
Photo by Roger Winstead

On June 4, 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a revised NPDES Multi-Sector General Permit (MSGP) for industrial stormwater discharges. The 2015 MSGP replaces the 2008 MSGP.

While the 2015 MSGP provisions are largely similar to the 2008 MSGP, EPA has made some changes to streamline the permit, enhance environmental protections, and improve clarity. The most significant changes are as follows:

  • Revised threatened and endangered species eligibility procedures.
  • Additional specificity for several of the technology-based effluent limits (i.e., control measures) for clarity.
  • A requirement that facilities discharging to a small number of federal Superfund sites notify their EPA regional office prior to filing their Notice of Intent (NOI).
  • Streamlining of Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) documentation (i.e., facilities do not have to expound on their compliance with certain effluent limits).
  • Public accessibility to SWPPP information, either by posting on the internet or by incorporating salient information into the NOI.
  • Electronic submission for the NOI, Notice of Termination, annual report, and monitoring.
  • Reduced requirements for inspections (i.e., facilities no longer have to conduct a separate comprehensive site inspection).
  • Specific deadlines for taking corrective actions.
  • Inclusion of saltwater benchmark values for metals.
  • Inclusion of the Airport Deicing Effluent Limitation Guideline for the air transportation sector.

EPA’s MSGP applies in areas of the country where EPA remains the NPDES permitting authority and has made the permit available for coverage, which includes the following:

  • Four states: Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico;
  • The District of Columbia;
  • All U.S. territories except for the Virgin Islands;
  • Federally operated facilities in Colorado, Delaware, Vermont and Washington;
  • Most Indian Country lands; and
  • Various other designated activities in specific states.

For additional information on the 2015 MSGP, visit EPA’s website here.

For additional questions, or if you need assistance with the 2015 MSGP, please contact us.

World Environment Day 2015: One Person Makes a Difference

wed2015 logoJune 5 is World Environment Day 2015, and this year’s theme is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.” We typically think in general terms about recycling, water usage, and climate change, and in turn wonder how one person can possibly make a difference. Below you will find some environmental facts over which the individual has some control. Simply being aware of our environmental footprint will help us all become more mindful of our own daily habits, which will cumulatively make a significant impact on the health of our world, now and in the future.

  1. globe hands conservationTRASH. Each person throws away approximately four pounds of garbage every day, and 14 billion pounds of trash is dumped into the ocean every year. 84% of all household waste can be recycled.
  2. PLASTIC. Most families throw away about 88 pounds of plastic every year, and plastic takes about 500 years to biodegrade. Only 1 in 7 plastic bottles is recycled.
  3. WATER. If all U.S. households installed water-saving features, water use would decrease by 30%, saving an estimated 5.4 billion gallons per day. This would result in dollar-volume savings of $11.3 million per day or more than $4 billion per year.
  4. PAPER. Every ton of paper recycled saves 7,000 gallons of water and 17 trees. Recycled paper requires 64% less energy than making paper from virgin wood pulp.
  5. ALUMINUM. 5 billion aluminum cans are used each year. It takes 90% less energy to recycle aluminum cans than to make new ones.
  6. OIL. There are an average of 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds. One gallon of motor oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of water, and approximately 5 million tons of oil produced in the world each year ends up in the ocean.
  7. LAWNS. Residential lawns and gardens are doused with 80 million pounds of chemical pesticides and 70 million tons of fertilizers annually. In addition, water sprinklers can consume 265 gallons of water in one hour, which exceeds estimates of the average U.S. household’s daily use.

As Americans, it is easy to find ways to conserve. Think about this: the U.S. holds 5% of the world’s population but uses 25% of its natural resources. America has less than 4% of its forests left and uses 500,000 gallons of oil every minute. Taking into account all uses of water, including drinking, sanitation, and food production, each human being requires about 12 gallons of water per day to live, yet the average American uses about 100 gallons per day. One person does make a difference. Becoming more mindful will help the environment now and for future generations, so let’s vow to do our own individual part to save our planet. Happy World Environment Day!