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ARS Home » Plains Area » El Reno, Oklahoma » Oklahoma and Central Plains Agricultural Research Center » Agroclimate and Hydraulics Research Unit » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #406477

Research Project: Development of a Monitoring Network, Engineering Tools, and Guidelines for the Design, Analysis, and Rehabilitation of Embankment Dams, Hydraulic Structures, and Channels

Location: Agroclimate and Hydraulics Research Unit

Title: Dam engineering: building a workforce to meet dam safety needs

item Hunt, Sherry
item BUSER, MICHAEL - US Department Of Agriculture (USDA)
item FARMER, KEVIN - Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, USDA)

Submitted to: ASABE Annual International Meeting
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/9/2023
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: With Congressional passage, the Flood Control Act of 1944 (Public Law 534) and the Flood Prevention and Watershed Protection Act of 1954 (Public Law 566) created the USDA Small Watershed Program. This program authorizes the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service to provide technical and financial assistance to local sponsors for the construction of dams on the upper tributaries of small watersheds across the U.S. To date, nearly 12,000 dams have been constructed across the U.S. based on USDA-ARS standardized design guidance developed from research. Approximately two-thirds of these dams have surpassed their planned service life. These are not federally owned dams but rather publicly owned dams where local sponsors (e.g., conservation districts, special use conservancy districts, municipalities) are responsible for providing cost-share funding, securing land rights and permits, and operating and maintaining the dam for the life of the project. In 2000, Congress passed the Watershed Rehabilitation Amendments that extended authority to USDA-NRCS to provide technical and financial assistance to address aging dams approaching the end of their planned service life or those that have identified vulnerabilities that require them to be addressed sooner than later. By the time these amendments were passed, lack of funding in both USDA-NRCS and USDA-ARS resulted in workforce attrition and thus, loss of institutional technical knowledge. Similarly, academic institutions have reduced coursework in the dam engineering field; thus, employers have often been left to provide training to recent graduates in this field. While the workforce dwindled, the workload increased as more and more dams reached the end of their planned service life. This presentation will convey some of the history of the USDA Small Watershed Program, loss of technical capacity in the dam engineering field from the perspective of USDA-ARS and USDA-NRCS, and building a workforce to meet dam safety needs of today. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.