This following press release was originally published by The Harvard Press.
This week is Engineers Week, which is celebrated in February of each year, and Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day always falls during Engineers Week. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day 2017 fell on February 23 this year, and since “Girl Day” is very important to Tata & Howard, we decided to celebrate the day by inviting local middle school girls to come into the office for a special event. The evening was a great success – and also quite a bit of fun!
In the engineering industry, only 11% of the workforce are women. However, Tata & Howard has always been above this statistic and since the beginning, has striven to recognize the value of women in engineering. Tata & Howard was established in 1992 by Donald Tata, P.E. and Paul Howard, P.E. Initially a two-person firm, the company quickly grew, and out of the first 20 hires, eight were female. This trend continued, and today, 32% of our engineering workforce is female, including the firm’s two co-presidents, Karen Gracey, P.E. and Jenna Rzasa, P.E.
To celebrate our commitment to women in engineering, Tata & Howard hosted an Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day event for local middle school girls at our corporate office in Marlborough, Massachusetts. All of our Marlborough-based female engineers participated with the exception of Maya Rhinehart, who was instead volunteering at Girls Inc. The overwhelming participation of our female engineers exemplifies their commitment to the industry as well as their incredible sense of teamwork and philanthropy.
The evening started with a brief introduction given by Karen, including a story of her experience at the University of Vermont, where she was sometimes the only female in her engineering classes. Justine Carroll, P.E., Project Manager and Team Leader, then presented a slideshow on environmental engineering and talked about the services provided by Tata & Howard, after which the female engineers each shared their personal journeys to choosing the engineering field. The girls then enjoyed a dinner of pizza and salad during which Amanda Cavaliere, Project Manager and Team Leader, led a discussion on the value of great teachers.
Once dinner was finished, the girls participated in a water tank building activity with some of our female engineers. Each group was given supplies including a disposable cup, rubber bands, chewing gum, string, drinking straws, paper clips, push pins, and Band-Aids and were charged with building the tallest elevated “tank” that could successfully hold eight ounces of water for 30 seconds. For 30 minutes, the girls brainstormed and built alongside the engineers until their masterpieces were finished. Immediately after, the tanks were tested for their structural stability. Karen poured the water into each of the “tanks” and we started the timer. Unfortunately, neither tank successfully lasted for 30 seconds, but we assured the girls that even engineers who attempted this activity at local trade organizations were unsuccessful. After all – Band-aids and chewing gum are no substitute for concrete and steel! One thing is for sure: there were plenty of laughs during the testing portion of the event.
Each girl was sent home with a certificate of completion and many smiles. The event was a huge success for not only the young girls, but also for the employee-owners who participated, and we are already planning for next year’s Girl Day. How did you celebrate Girl Day or E-Week? Let us know in the comments below – and Happy Engineers Week!
February 15 is Random Acts of Kindness Day, and we celebrated by having a Kindness event! Employee-owners were able to purchase pops for $1 each. They would then write messages expressing gratitude or any other type of positivity on them and give them to fellow EOs. All donations went to DARE Family Services, an organization that provides services to severely abused and neglected children in Massachusetts and Connecticut. The event far exceeded our donation expectations, and we are very proud of our amazing — and very positive — team!
Dams are an integral part of modern day infrastructure, providing many benefits to society. Yet dams have also come under scrutiny in the past few years as they can potentially have a negative effect on an area’s ecology. Some people, including environmental groups, are vehemently calling for the removal of many dams, while others continue to promote the positive impact that dams have on our culture. To remove or not to remove? That is the question.
The Benefits of Dams
Dams have been in existence for over 5,000 years. The first known dam to be built was the Jawa Dam, which was constructed around 3,000 BCE in Mesopotamia. Since that time, dam engineering has progressed significantly, and there are now about 50,000 large dams in use worldwide. The United States currently has 87,000 dams over six feet in height, 2,000,000 dams in total, and 50 major dams — the most in the world. And though they may have an ecological impact, dams admittedly provide myriad benefits, both economically and socially.
The most prevalent function of America’s dams is to provide recreation. Families flock to our nation’s lakes that are created by dams for vacations and downtime to enjoy boating, camping, picnic areas, water skiing, fishing, and water sports. Some of the most beautiful and enjoyable vacation spots in the nation are lakes created by dams. In fact, of the top ten most popular vacation lakes in the United States, eight are impounded by dams, including number one on the list, Lake Tahoe. These recreational areas bring in millions of dollars of tourist funds and are important to the economic health of the nation.
Flood control dams impound floodwater to help prevent loss of life and protect property caused by flooding. They also protect farmers’ crops from being destroyed by flood inundation. Protecting people, property, and crops also provides high economic benefit.
Water Storage (Fire & Farm Ponds)
While major dams create massive lakes, thousands of other dams create smaller reservoirs throughout the nation that supply water for industrial, municipal, and agricultural uses. Water from these human-made lakes supply water for livestock and fire protection for cities and towns, as well as industrial uses.
Over ten percent of American crops are irrigated using water impounded by dams. This irrigated farmland provides thousands of jobs to hardworking American people, providing huge economic benefit to our nation.
Mine tailings are sometimes overlooked as dams, but there are actually over 1,300 mine tailings impoundments in the United States. The tailings allow for the mining and processing of coal and other minerals while protecting the surrounding environment.
While only 2.9% of our nation’s dams provide hydroelectric power, they account for over 35% of our nation’s renewable energy, over 6% of our total electricity, and around 10% of our nation’s total power needs. In fact, the United States is the second largest producer of hydropower in the world, second only to Canada. Hydropower is considered a clean energy source because it does not contribute to air pollution, climate change, or ozone depletion.
Some other uses for dams include debris control and navigation.
Negative Effects of Dams
While our nation’s dams provide many benefits, they also cause many concerns. First, the cost of maintenance sometimes outweighs any positive impact the dam may provide. In addition, dams can also have a negative effect on the environment, and some pose serious hazard to people and property. By 2020, about 70% of our nation’s dams will be over 50 years old and will require significant rehabilitation and repair. In fact, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials has estimated that it could cost over $51 billion to rehabilitate our nation’s non-federally owned dams. Therefore, it is imperative that we consider all aspects of dams and their environmental, economic, and social impact before making any rehabilitation decisions.
Many dams continue to provide benefit to our nation and its communities, while others have simply outlived their useful function. In these cases, it makes sense to remove them rather than to pour increasingly dwindling funds into their repair. Since 1912, over 1,300 American dams have been removed, 62 of these being removed in 2015 alone.
Maintenance vs. Removal
Like all infrastructure, dams require routine and ongoing maintenance to keep them safe and functioning. Frequently, dams are allowed to deteriorate until they pose a threat to public safety, particularly when they have fallen out of usage. In these cases, it is prudent for dam owners to work with state and federal dam experts to determine whether it makes sense to simply remove the dam rather than repair it.
One of the most significant impacts that dams have on the environment is interference with migratory fish such as salmon. Dams block the migration of these fish to upstream spawning areas, while also limiting the movement of both sediment and woody debris necessary to the maintenance of downstream spawning grounds. Many environmental activists call for the removal of dams that interfere with fish spawn, citing disruption of local ecology. The good news is that once a dam is removed, species quickly return to their upstream spawning areas, regardless of the length of time that the dam has been in place.
While dams provide significant recreational benefits, in some cases they can also hinder them. When a river is returned to its free-flowing state by dam removal, new recreational opportunities arise, including whitewater rafting, kayaking, and fly fishing. These activities can greatly benefit local economies by increasing tourism to these typically remote communities. Also, removing dams can increase the number of recreational and commercial fish species such as trout and salmon. Both commercial fisheries and recreational fishermen benefit from increased catch rates though additional revenue and increased tourism, respectively.
Many aging dams were originally built to supply hydro power to nearby industrial facilities such as mills and factories, and they generate little electricity. Because the nation has shifted away from local power supply to a more regional production, the power generated by these older dams is expensive and, since many of the older factories and mills have permanently shut down, are oftentimes no longer even needed.
Many Native American populations place significant spiritual and cultural value on free-flowing rivers and the natural ecology, as evidenced by the long standoff between the federal government and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Because dams change the natural ecology and prohibit the free flow of rivers and waters, Native American tribes often view them in a negative light.
Dams have the tendency to drive down property values, particularly smaller dams which are no longer used for their original purpose. These dams can present flood risk as well as lower water quality, and removal of these dams improves property values.
The question remains: to remove or not to remove? The reality is that there is no easy or right answer. The decision on whether to repair or remove a dam is complex, and all contributing factors must be considered carefully before determining the best course of action. The decision must include weighing the current value of the dam, including its social and economic benefits, against the costs of upkeep and the detrimental effects of the dam on the environment. When the dam has little social or economic effect either way, the long-term costs of maintenance versus the cost of removal must be considered.
Thousands of American dams have aged to the point that they require significant repair, while scientific understanding of our world’s delicate ecology and has grown exponentially. Also, advances in economic methodology has highlighted the positive impact that dam removal can have on local and regional communities. Because of these modern-day shifts, it is often considered prudent to remove dams that no longer properly serve their original purpose. At the same time, dams that still function and provide important benefits such as irrigation and flood control are often repaired and maintained. The fact remains that the answer is not clear or definitive. All aspects of a dam, its location, original use, state of repair, social and cultural implications, and surrounding environment must be considered prior to determining the best course of action.
New England is one of the oldest and most historically rich areas of the nation. Famous events such as the pilgrims founding Plimouth Plantation and Paul Revere’s midnight ride took place in Massachusetts. New Hampshire planted the first potato in America, Maine introduced the nation’s first sawmill, and Vermont produced the nation’s first gummed postage stamp. Connecticut has the most “firsts” of any state in the nation including the first newspaper, submarine, and hamburger, while tiny but mighty Rhode Island was the first colony in the nation to declare independence from Britain. New England also boasts another first: it is home to the nation’s first water distribution systems.
A Brief History
Boston, Massachusetts became home to the nation’s first waterworks in 1652. Distribution pipes at that time were made of wood, constructed from bored-out logs from the area’s plentiful hemlock and elm trees and attached together with pitch, tar, or iron hoops. While this rudimentary distribution system did supply some of the area’s residents, it was mainly used for fire protection as homes during that time — constructed of wood and heated with fireplaces —were particularly prone to fire.
It was over a century before other New England cities began installing wooden distribution pipes. Providence, Rhode Island, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Worcester, Massachusetts all laid wooden pipes during the late 1700s, and several other cities followed suit in the early 1800s. Contrary to some urban myths, wooden pipes are not still in use in any areas of New England today. The high pressure from modern water systems would instantly split any existing wooden pipes. Wooden pipes that are occasionally unearthed during some construction projects were disconnected years ago.
Wooden pipes were problematic for many reasons including warping and sagging, insect infestation, rotting, taste issues, and splitting. As iron became increasingly available during the early 1800s, cities began installing iron pipes. The first iron pipes in New England were installed in Portland, Maine in 1812, followed by Montpelier, Vermont in 1820, and in both instances the pipes were lead. Many other cities followed suit throughout the 19th century, utilizing wrought iron, cast iron, and lead pipe. In the 1950s, ductile iron piping was introduced and boasted the longevity of cast iron with the addition of increased strength, flexibility, and safety. It became widely used in the 1970s and it is still the material of choice throughout New England today.
Distribution Systems Today
New England can be considered a pioneer of our nation’s water infrastructure. After all, distribution systems have grown from a few wooden pipes in Boston to the intricate, complicated underground infrastructure that we enjoy today. However, because much of the area’s infrastructure was laid so long ago, it has reached the end of its useful life. Water main breaks occur daily and are not only inconvenient to customers, they can also be dangerous, as evidenced by the November 2016 water main break in Boston, Massachusetts that caused manhole fires and forced evacuation of the area. Maintaining and updating our distribution systems is critical to the health and safety of our nation, its people, and the economy. But with limited budgets and resources, where do we start?
Strategically prioritizing improvements is imperative to today’s water systems, as the rehabilitation and replacement of our nation’s buried infrastructure is an ongoing task. Asset management provides a roadmap for utilities, allowing them to maximize their limited infrastructure dollars by planning for the replacement of critical infrastructure over time. Tata & Howard’s Capital Efficiency Plan™ (CEP) methodology takes it one step further by combining the concepts of asset management, hydraulic modeling, and system criticality into a single comprehensive report. The final report provides utilities with a database and Geographic Information System (GIS) representation for each pipe segment within their underground piping system, prioritizes water distribution system piping improvements, and provides estimated costs for water main replacement and rehabilitation.
Since the firm’s inception in 1992, Tata & Howard has remained a niche firm with deep experience and expertise in the water environment, and has provided CEP and hydraulic modeling services for countless municipalities throughout New England. Tata & Howard has one of the largest pipe asset management databases of any consulting engineering firm in New England. In fact, we have data on over 5,000 miles of New England pipe, providing utilities with critical information about their systems such as condition and probability of failure of certain pipe cohorts.
Water distribution systems have come a long way since the days of hollowed out logs providing fire protection to colonial Bostonians. The underground network of distribution pipes has grown astronomically and now incorporates safer, stronger, and more cost-effective materials. As distribution systems are updated and expanded, it is critical that accurate, up-to-date information is available to water systems so that they may invest their limited capital wisely.