GALVESTON, Texas (Sept. 1, 2015) – Often spending his summers
in the Texas hill country, building makeshift dams and playing in creeks in his younger years, Andrew Weber’s fascination with moving water hasn’t changed. As a civil engineer, specializing in geotechnical engineering, his work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Galveston District allows him to continue studying water and the impact it has on soil properties to prevent against loss of life and property for thousands of Houstonians.
“I am working on the Addicks and Barker reservoirs and dams construction project to ensure modifications to this infrastructure meets design standards and are maintained to function as intended,” said Weber. “This multi-million dollar mega project affects thousands of homeowners, impacts the economy and protects billions of dollars in downtown Houston.”
Weber is referring to the upcoming $71.9 million construction project that will replace outlet works for both dams and implement a series of measures to decommission the existing outlet structures. The measures in decommissioning the existing outlet works included grouting the existing conduits, removing the steel gate structures, excavating and demolishing any unusable concrete structures, installing downstream filters and backfilling the excavated areas.
“The construction of the two 11-mile-long earthen dams were built in response to devastating floods that occurred in Houston in 1929 and 1935 in what was then undeveloped areas was a milestone in a longstanding partnership between the Corps and the greater Houston community,” said Weber. “They have been protecting the Houston metropolitan area for the last 70 years.”
Weber says that the Dam Safety and Levee Safety programs he operates under ensures that Corps’ owned-and-operated dams and levees do not present unacceptable risks to people, property or the environment, with the main emphasis being public safety.
“I enjoy knowing that my work has an impact on the lives of Texans,” said Weber. “My fascination with water as a child has carried into my career and instead of playing in the creeks or drainage ditches I now get to work on dams and levees to ensure these resilient structures will continue to protect.”
A native of Buda, Texas, the former Department of the Army intern earned his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Texas A&M University at College Station in 2009 and is a licensed professional engineer. During his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and infant son.
Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District, awarded a contract in the amount of $71,902,340 to Granite Construction Company for construction of new outlet structures at the Addicks and Barker Dams in west Houston.
Work will consist of construction of new intake towers, steel-lined conduits, parabolic chute slabs, stilling basins, cutoff walls and downstream filters, in addition to the grouting and decommissioning of the existing outlet structures in place at both dams. There will also be an additional seepage cutoff element for Barker Dam at Noble Road located south of Briar Forest Drive.
“The Corps’ primary objective is to maintain public safety by ensuring the dams we own and operate are safe and the risks to the public are minimized,” said Col. Richard P. Pannell, USACE Galveston District commander. “With interim risk reduction measures already implemented and long-term measures to be undertaken with this contract, it is expected that the dams and reservoirs will continue to serve the City of Houston for another 50 years.”
The 70-year-old structures were designated as extremely high risk in 2009 based on technical issues concerning the safety of the dams and the potential consequences to the City of Houston should the outlet structures fail.
“Partly because of this risk classification, the dams received the attention and funding to complete several interim risk reduction measures while USACE has been working on a long term fix,” said Enrique Villagomez, mechanical engineer and Addicks and Barker project manager with the USACE Galveston District. “The interim risk reduction measures implemented included filling the voids along the conduits and beneath the parabolic chutes caused by the seepage from the reservoirs, constructing a granular filter around the ends of the outlet structure conduits to prevent voids from forming in the future, installing additional lighting to aid in increased inspection and monitoring, the addition of emergency generators to ensure uninterrupted power to the outlet structures and the installation of steel plates to stabilize the concrete parabolic chute slabs.”
According to Villagomez, while construction should have little impact on the operations of the reservoirs, there will be unavoidable impacts to the hike and bike trails located in the vicinity of the existing outlet structures and the adjacent construction area for the new outlet structures, as well as the parking lot and hike and bike trail in the Briar Forest area of Barker Dam.
“We will be working with the contractor and Harris County to minimize these impacts,” said Villagomez.
Residents will be able to track construction schedules, detours and upcoming events related to the Addicks and Barker Dams’ safety modification project thanks to story map technology located online at http://geospatial.swf.usace.army.mil/AddicksBarker2/index.html.
“It’s the first time we’ve used this type of interactive web application to inform residents and recreational users about our construction plans,” said Villagomez. “The story map combines the location of the dams and recreational facilities with multimedia content to make it easy for viewers to find information while allowing us to post updates to keep viewers apprised of our construction progress.”
Work is expected to begin in September 2015 with an estimated completion date of summer 2019.
According to Villagomez, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continually inspects all of its dams nationwide under its Dam Safety Program – a program that shows our commitment to protecting lives, property and the environment by ensuring that all dams are designed, constructed, operated and maintained as safely and effectively as possible. The Corps’ Dam Safety Program provides a framework to ensure that both short and long term solutions are studied and applied, and helps to ensure public safety for our local communities.
The Addicks and Barker dams and reservoirs have protected the Houston metropolitan area for more than 70 years. Since their construction, the dams have prevented more than $8 billion in potential flood damages. It is estimated that more than $2 billion in potential flood damages were prevented during the May 2015 flood event alone.
When a rain event occurs that may result in flooding downstream of the dams, the outlet structure gates are closed in order to reduce the potential for flooding below the reservoirs along Buffalo Bayou. When the downstream flows along Buffalo Bayou have receded to non-damaging levels, reservoir operations resume, the gates are opened, and water is released from the reservoirs at a non-damaging rate until the reservoirs are empty.