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Improving Public Safety with DamWatch

To improve public safety for those living below a dam, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has partnered with US Engineering Solutions Corporation to launch “DamWatch” a web-based application that provides real-time monitoring of rainfall, snowmelt, stream flow, and seismic events that could pose potential threats to dam safety.

Through a secure interactive website this program helps watershed project sponsors monitor and manage dams that were built with assistance from NRCS. By monitoring these structures, project sponsors can better prevent and protect against hazardous, costly, and potentially catastrophic events. Piloted by the Oklahoma NRCS in 2013, this program is currently implemented at approximately 12,000 dams in 47 states.

A unique feature of DamWatch is that the system is capable of storing a near-unlimited amount of files including site-specific data such as built drawings, design data, O&M inspection reports, emergency action plans, breach inundation maps, photos, videos, and watershed benefit data. The system enables users to interact with on-site personnel and specialists in various offices.

In 2015, Dam Watch proved integral when Oklahoma saw historic rainfall.  Between April and July the state saw cumulative rainfall amounts of over 50 inches in some parts of the state. Real-time weather data coupled with the means to communicate the information with immediacy allowed staff to review more than 550 dams in the field and submit reports that verified auxiliary spillway flows and identify dams that had overtopped and/or sustained damage.

During this 90-day window, DamWatch demonstrated that many dams and spillways functioned as planned and designed. It additionally highlighted the need for operation and maintenance of these structures. It is expected that the damage resulting from this weather event will require $5 million in funding and an additional $2 million for future O&M needs. Despite the projected needs, it is estimated that the DamWatch alert and ticket system provided over $162 million in benefits. This means that had the dams not been in place, there would have been significant and wide spread damage to roads, bridges, crops, fences, buildings, homes, and other property.

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