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Mission Forward BY DESIGN STEM-focused schools get A+

EVERGLADES Restoration efforts continue

HEALTH CARE New VA hospital state-of-the-art








26 HURRICANE SANDY Five years later, lessons learned help shore up our coasts for the future



ON THE COVER Crews work on a damaged section of the Oroville Dam in Oroville, Calif. PHOTO: JOSH EDELSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES




NOT JUST OROVILLE California dam breach highlights need for maintenance nationwide

PROTECTING THE PAST Rising waters threaten nation’s historic structures

RIVER OF GRASS Florida Everglades restoration project aims to save the ecosystem



CONTENTS This is a product of


Jeanette Barrett-Stokes jbstokes@usatoday.com CREATIVE DIRECTOR

6 12






Q&A Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite explains his leadership framework

Jerald Council jcouncil@usatoday.com MANAGING EDITOR

Michelle Washington mjwashington@usatoday.com ISSUE EDITOR

Tracy Scott Forson EDITORS

Patricia Kime Elizabeth Neus Sara Schwartz Debbie Williams

ECO-FRIENDLY Environmental factors influence how projects move forward


Gina Toole Saunders


DAKOTA PIPELINE Work on the controversial structure moves ahead despite protests


VA HOSPITAL Corps rescues troubled construction project


HIGH VOLTAGE Reviewing efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes


Miranda Pellicano Lisa M. Zilka INTERN

Rosalie Haizlett CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Matt Alderton, Brian Barth, Regina Bediako, Scott Berman, Signe Brewster, Stacey Freed, Adam Hadhazy, Adrienne Jordan, Erik Schechter






MUSEUMS Corps artifacts and oversight help preserve the past


Julie Marco

PLAY TIME Every Kid in a Park introduces students to the great outdoors

CLASSY DIGS Defense Department K-12 schools turn to the Corps for new designs COLLEGE BOUND USACE works with universities to introduce high schoolers to STEM

Patrick Burke | (703) 854-5914 pburke@usatoday.com Justine Madden | (703) 854-5444 jmadden@usatoday.com




ISSN#0734-7456 A USA TODAY publication, Gannett Co. Inc.

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PRESERVATION EAGLE EYE Park rangers keep count of America’s national bird

BACKLIGHT GOOD LOOKING Visit a Corps park, snap a photo and enter to win

USA TODAY, its logo and associated graphics are the trademarks of Gannett Co. Inc. or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Copyright 2017, USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Editorial and publication headquarters are at 7950 Jones Branch Dr., McLean, VA 22108, and at 703-854-3400. For accuracy questions, call or send an email to accuracy@usatoday.com








Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, USACE commanding general and 54th chief of engineers, addresses soldiers.



Innovation aids USACE in preparing for the future By Tracy Scott Forson

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the Army’s chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, took office in May 2016, accepting responsibility for much of America’s aging infrastructure in the midst of government cuts. In written responses to USA TODAY, he explained his leadership framework that looks to the future while reaffirming the Corps’ 241-year partnership with the nation and its dedication to people, the environment and innovation.

You’re approaching a year leading the Corps of Engineers. What have been your top priorities for USACE? SEMONITE: In my first year in command, I have personally visited hundreds of projects, people and stakeholders ... across the globe to assess our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and how we are perceived by our partners, stakeholders and critics. I’ve listened, observed and collected enormous amounts of data to inform the three dimensions of my leadership framework. The first dimension is to strengthen the foundation, which focuses on performing routine functions to a high standard ... and ensuring we have the right people, processes and values-based culture to carry out our public service mission. The second dimension is to deliver the program. This single focus area may be the most strategic thing we can accomplish as an organization because our credibility relies on our ability to deliver on our commitments. Our diverse portfolio of programs is comprised of highly complicated projects, often with challenging specifications and site conditions. While we are very proud of the quality to which we deliver these projects, we are targeting our process improvement and innovation initiatives ... and setting accurate expectations upfront with sound estimates. The third dimension of my leadership framework is to achieve our vision. America and global partners have depended on us to engineer solutions for the nation’s toughest challenges. Despite a long track record of accomplishment, it is imperative that we be forwardthinking and push the envelope in terms of innovative delivery. Anticipating future conditions, challenges and opportunities, and taking thoughtful decisive action today, will prepare us for the unknown future. Much of the nation’s infrastructure is more than 50 years old. What’s necessary to improve it? When it comes to infrastructure, many people think of roads, rails and runways. … They often forget about the role of our rivers, waterways and ports. Our water resources infrastructure is one of America’s greatest assets and offers us a tremendous economic advantage. No other country in the world can connect raw materials, imports and exports to the interior nation … like America can. However, most of our water resources infrastructure was built out in the 1960s and 1970s. Based on cost, replacing these facilities is unrealistic and we must focus (on) maintenance to keep them operational. … The magnitude of maintaining our aged water resources infrastructure is monumental. CO N T I N U E D





Q&A changed many scores to green (on track). Over the past four years, Corps teams and individuals have consistently received awards from the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s GreenGov Presidential Awards program for their contribution toward making the federal government more sustainable. Last year, the Corps of Engineers received the Green Innovation and Building the Future awards. Our Corps is a leader in sustainability, but we can’t rest on our laurels. Our priority remains on our continued commitment to meet and exceed our federal goals and targets for energy and sustainability and integrating our environmental operating principles into all that we do. Finally, we are growing world-class sustainability leaders who are chosen for their passion, commitment, knowledge and expertise. As engineers, we have unique capabilities to translate science into actionable information and innovation. All of this important work is accomplished by teams of people deeply committed to sustainability.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, far left, joins President Barack Obama and other former officials at a briefing on Hurricane Matthew during a visit to Federal Emerfency Management Agency headquarters in Washington, in October.

What can we expect from USACE in the near future? The mission of each of our 34,000-plus people is to deliver vital engineering solutions, along with our partners, to secure You have said that USACE has a large the nation, energize our economy and “environmental restoration” and “susreduce risks related to disasters. Almost tainability” role. Can you elaborate? everything we’re currently doing, or As the nation’s environmental engineer, anticipate doing, goes back to those three the Corps manages one of the largest fedthings. ... Some of our perilous missions eral environmental missions in the United might not necessarily be ones we want to States by restoring degraded ecosystems; take on, but we must take them on. Why? constructing sustainable facilities; and Because our vision is to “engineer solutions cleaning up contaminated sites from past to the nation’s toughest challenges.” military activities. We have abundant evidence, 241 years The Corps has one of the largest environworth, that demonstrates we deliver on ment restoration and environmental our commitments, and I intend to make sustainability roles in the federal governsure we continue to deliver. So whether ment. We continually seek to partner with it’s repairing the perilous Mosul other federal and state agencies, Dam (in Iraq), or saving lives non-governmental organizations and protecting property during and academic institutions to READ dreadful storms, or anything find innovative solutions to MORE else the American people challenges that affect everyabout the (ask) us to do, we’ve got to one — sustainability, climate deliver the program today change, resiliency, threatened Florida and be ready, willing and able and endangered species, Everglades to conquer the challenges of environmental cleanup, invasive restoration on tomorrow. We also must look at species and ecosystem restorapage 40. what future challenges America tion. One key project ... is in the is going to ask us to tackle and Florida Everglades, where we are we’ve got to be ready, willing working with the National Park and able to step up to help, before we’re Service, the state and others to restore the asked. natural flow of the “River of Grass” that has I believe we will continue to play our been disturbed. full part in promoting our nation’s peace, Since 2011, the Corps, like all other prosperity and sustainability through our federal agencies, has reported its progress science and engineering expertise and of a number of sustainability scorecard leadership. ... Everything we do supports metrics to the Office of Management and the Army and our nation’s readiness. We Budget. At the inception of the scorecard, need to keep setting the example of what USACE scored red (failing) on every one right looks like. Together, we will continue of the OMB metrics. Through the tireless to engineer solutions for the nation’s work of (USACE) employees and the focus toughest challenges. of leadership at every level, we now have SUSAN WALSH/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Renewing aging infrastructure is largely a question of resources. Today, the Corps has about $63 billion in federal authorized projects (but not constructed). Our annual fiscal requirement to operate and maintain the infrastructure we have (valued at more than a quarter of a trillion dollars) is about $7 billion; however, these activities are typically funded only at about $3 billion. This is where innovative thinking and action is critical to keep this infrastructure operational safely into the future. It appears there is never enough federal funding to complete civil works projects. How are you adapting to make the most of federal dollars? Because the nation has so many fiscal requirements, we have to find additional ways of stretching our valuable civil works dollars. Innovative financing, such as public-private partnerships, may help with leveraging private money to offset some of the federal financial obligation. A great example is the Fargo-Moorhead flood risk reduction project along the Red River on the border of North Dakota and Minnesota. This area has flooded 10 of the last 11 years, affects about 200,000 people every time it floods and has incurred millions in flood damages over the year(s). If we were to construct this project in the conventional manner, it would have taken 16 years, but through the use of a public-private partnership, we think we can complete the project in 6.5 years. If, in fact, we did it conventionally, the federal share would have been ... $850 million, but with the use of a private partner, the

federal share would only be $450 million. From an efficiency perspective, the conventional method could have employed as many as 28 contracts, but the current proposal would only employ 11 contracts. We aim to explore many similar opportunities across our other business lines across the country. Building and development can be a threat to nature. How does USACE ensure the least environmental damage and leave the smallest footprint? Development is critical for our economic well-being. Conversely, it has the potential to negatively impact our precious resources, so a challenge always exists to keep in balance. To do so, the Corps acts in congruence with an important set of environmental operating principles, which values working in partnership with government and non-government partners and stakeholders to make risk-based and science-informed decisions that are in the best interest of the public. In addition to executing our own projects, the Corps also has a broader regulatory role under the Clean Water Act and issues approximately 80,000 permit decisions annually to public and private applicants. These permit decisions enable billions of dollars of economic development, thus advancing job creation related to critical transportation, energy and other infrastructure development projects nationwide. We strive … to ensure projects are carried out in an environmentally sound manner.







USACE thoroughly investigates how each new project will impact the surrounding ecosystem

Levees along the Sacramento River in California are aging, posing a threat to the population. RICH PEDRONCELLI/ASSOCIATED PRESS



ENVIRONMENT Rick Sorenson wades in the Sacramento River in January as it makes its way up the levee along Garden Highway in Sacramento, Calif.


By Signe Brewster


HERE’S A SERIES OF old levees along the banks of the Sacramento River in California that help regulate water levels in the flood-prone Sacramento region. They also provide a footing for trees, which shade the river and provide a nurturing habitat for fish and fowl. For the sake of Sacramento-area residents, the levees must be replaced. Some are considered unstable and could allow water to seep through in the event of a flood. Development and water use also have caused nearby land to sink, increasing the region’s reliance on the levees. However, tearing out the levees would displace the fish that live in their shade and the birds that nest in shoreline trees. These are things the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) must consider in addition to simply building new levees: how its projects may affect the environment. Before building a new project, USACE, which is currently working to update dams, levees and other water management infrastructure in the Sacramento region, completes what is known as a feasibility study, which

with Native American tribes and other includes an environmental impact interested parties to discuss concerns. assessment, according to Yvonne Mark Matusiak, a supervisory biologist Haberer, a USACE environmental policy in USACE’s Office of Water Project reviewer in Sacramento. Review, said citizens tend to have widely During the impact assessment, different opinions on what is important, USACE personnel or contractors collect so USACE collects public comments for data on-site and turn to high-tech at least 45 days during resources, including the assessment period. software that can model The Sacramento project environmental systems. involved posting public Sometimes they make Feasibility notices on the city’s use of physical models studies website and in local that can demonstrate newspapers and other how water flows through usually take publications, plus sending a dam as volume between mailings to nearby changes, according residents and holding to Mindy Simmons, a 18 and 36 open houses. USACE senior program months, at a The entire planning manager in Washington, and building process D.C. cost of up to must abide by the Corps’ The environmental $3 million. environmental operating surveys don’t just principles. A project’s examine scientific facts impact on communities, and data. USACE works the environment and with other federal and historic land or buildings must all be state agencies to understand local considered, along with its unique conditions as well. In Sacramento, engineering challenges. USACE pinpoints this includes the U.S. Fish and how to minimize the consequences a Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and project will have on the environment — Atmospheric Administration Fisheries or comes up with a plan for mitigating and the California Department of Fish unavoidable impact. The process can be and Wildlife. The engineers also met

applied to everything from a new dam to wetlands restoration. Feasibility studies usually take between 18 and 36 months, at a cost of up to $3 million. “The idea is to make sure we are building projects that will meet the needs of the nation over the long term and do it in a way that’s sustainable, not just from an environmental perspective, but from a community perspective as well,” Simmons said. That can mean careful study to ensure a restoration project provides the maximum possible benefit to the environment. In the case of the proposed Sacramento River levee, it means leaving the existing structure in place to preserve the habitat for wildlife, said Matusiak, who noted that a private business might not choose the same approach. However, USACE must abide by laws and directives from Congress that don’t necessarily apply to the private sector. “If you build a new levee a couple hundred feet behind the existing levees, those trees that are facing the river now that provide those habitat benefits to the fish can stay there,” Matusiak said. “We still get a project that meets our purposes. We’ve avoided the adverse effects.”




BIGGER THAN OIL The Dakota Access Pipeline continues to stir up controversy By Tracy Scott Forson


OLLOWING A YEARS-LONG BATTLE marked by protests, litigation and political posturing, President Donald Trump in February ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue working on the Dakota Access Pipeline project. Native Americans of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have objected to installment of the pipeline, which is more than 1,170 miles long, under Lake Oahe in North Dakota, citing its potential harm to the environment and placement near an ancient burial ground. However, a USACE environmental impact assessment determined there would be “no significant impact” to the land. USACE has jurisdiction over 37 miles of the pipeline project. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for evaluating and issuing permits for all water crossings,” according to its website. “USACE is charged with supporting economic development and ensuring measures exist to minimize impacts to the environment.” According to Dakota Access Pipeline Facts, a pro-pipeline site, the project has created around 12,000 jobs and will decrease the number of spills by removing from service the 500 to 740 rail cars and more than 250 trucks that transport the crude from North Dakota daily. Despite its reported benefits, in April, before the pipeline was fully operational, it experienced a leak inside a pump station about 100 miles from the camp where Native Americans and their supporters protested. The 84-gallon spill was quickly cleaned up, but the incident was not made public for nearly a month, adding to the concerns of the Sioux and other environmentalists. “The Dakota Access Pipeline has not yet started shipping the proposed half million barrels of oil per day and we are already seeing confirmed reports of oil spills from the pipeline,” said Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II in a statement. “It’s more important than ever for the court to step in and halt additional accidents before they happen — not just for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and our resources, but for the 17 million people whose drinking water is at risk.” The spill was cleaned up and the leak repaired before oil officially began flowing through the structure, and Energy Transfer Partners, the owners of the pipeline, weren’t delayed by the mishap. “We are very pleased to bring this important infrastructure project that benefits all Americans and our national economy into service on June 1,” said Lisa Dillinger, Energy Transfer spokeswoman. — Contributing: Kevin Hardy





From the National Mall to lands of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, thousands protested — some in teepees and tents — the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (part of which is seen bottom left) that runs under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. Work on the pipeline began in June 2016, but production was halted in December as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a necessary easement across the lake and planned to conduct more environmental studies. In February, work continued.







Denver’s new Department of Veterans Affairs health center seemed doomed until the Corps stepped in By Matt Alderton


HE CONSTRUCTION SITE BUZZES with activity and the noise of hundreds of workers completing their mission. Just a few years ago, however, those familiar with the project gazed on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Replacement Medical Center in Aurora, Colo., and saw idle cranes and abandoned bulldozers dotting the 31acre site. In December 2014, construction ceased for several weeks at the culmination of a contentious legal battle between the VA and general contractor, Kiewit-Turner (KT). The Denver Post called the project “the biggest construction failure in VA history.” Plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays, what began as a celebrated gift to veterans had devolved into a quagmire disserving them. But three years later, the massive hospital project is nearing completion under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which has been executing it on behalf of the VA since November 2015. In the Corps’ hands, the facility has been dramatically recast. Instead of being the department’s biggest construction failure, it’s now poised to become its most significant turnaround.



Contractors work on the exterior of the new research building, one of many on the campus of the Aurora, Colo., Replacement Medical Center.

Built in 1951, Denver’s VA hospital, part of the Eastern Colorado Health Care System, is old and overcrowded. A new, larger

facility is needed to provide optimal care for the 400,000 veterans living in Colorado and surrounding states, and it has been in the works since at least 1995, when the VA began discussing a replacement hospital. Although the agency entertained several proposals over the subsequent decade, none took hold until 2008, when it finally acquired land for a new medical center in Aurora. The facility’s objective — to provide better care for veterans in a state-of-theart facility — was simple. Executing it was not. While early estimates placed the cost at $328 million, prices rose unfettered during the design process. And although a new construction budget of $604 million was established before work started in 2011, gaps persisted between design and cost, so much so that KT sued the VA for breach of contract in 2013, accusing it of providing a design that could not be built within budget and instead would cost more than $1 billion. When a court ruled against the VA in December 2014, KT temporarily suspended work. Eventually, the project resumed under the condition that the VA relinquish its management of the construction to USACE. Rebuilding trust was necessary to continue the work, explained Dennis Milsten, associate executive director of the operations office in the VA Office of Construction and Facilities Management. The Corps was chosen, he said, to be a CO N T I N U E D






neutral and unifying force that could heal the rift between KT and VA. “The Corps … spent about a year side-by-side with us while construction continued before they took over ... We see the results of that today in the progress that’s being made.”



This quarter-mile long concourse in the new hospital will serve as a central connector for clinic buildings, diagnostic and treatment centers, a chapel and more.

to keep construction moving forward.” Just as critical as real-time decisionmaking was the tone the Corps set. “I think what really helped us on this project is keeping the veteran in mind. We’re building these facilities for veterans who desperately need them,” Sturdivant said. “Rather than dwelling on the past — whether there were hurt feelings between the VA and the contractors — we looked forward and said, ‘What are we going to do today to finish this project for our vets?’”

Although the project’s budget ultimately ballooned to $1.675 billion, having a clear financial baseline and realistic scope helped the Corps succeed where the VA fell short. The hospital is now 90 percent complete and on track to be finished by ‘A PRODUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP’ January 2018. When it’s complete, the new hospital But turning things around wasn’t easy. will contain 148 beds and total 1.2 million Originally expected to be finished in square feet. It will feature a spinal cord 2013 and opened in 2014, the hospital injury clinic, dedicated mental health care was only 50 percent floor, therapy pools, complete when USACE research labs and more. joined the project at But the relationship the end of 2014. To get between VA and USACE “We looked things back on track, the isn’t likely to end with forward and said, Corps formed a series the ribbon-cutting of the of seven building teams sparkling new hospital. ‘What are we gothat worked closely “We’ve built a team of ing to do today to with KT and VA on-site. teams with the VA, and One team oversaw the I look forward to future finish this project overall project, while the opportunities where for our vets?’” remaining six tackled we can partner with the individual buildings them in order to provide — Peter Sturdivant, on the hospital campus, infrastructure that serves construction division chief, including two inpatient our nation’s veterans,” USACE Omaha District buildings, three outpasaid Ted Streckfuss, tient clinic buildings and deputy district engineer a research building, a in the Omaha District. diagnostic and treatment center, an energy Such opportunities are already evident, center and three parking garages. according to Milsten, who said VA currently Treating each building as its own mini has 13 projects in its pipeline on which it project eliminated bottlenecks and will collaborate with the Corps. Lessons increased communications, officials said. learned, he added, will ensure the mistakes “KT and their subcontractor were really made in Aurora are never repeated. good at building things, as long as they “The Corps of Engineers is becoming a had someone out in the field with them solid business partner of the VA,” he said. day in and day out to answer questions “It’s been a productive relationship that’s and handle the administrative stuff going to advance a lot of our projects and that working on government contracts give us the opportunity to see how another adds to the construction process,” said federal agency handles quality managePeter Sturdivant, chief of the construction ment, their modification process and their division in the Corps’ Omaha District and construction operation process so we can the project’s senior resident engineer. take those lessons and apply them to the “Sending building teams out into the projects we execute ourselves.” field to work with and alongside the folks from KT enabled real-time decision-making CO N T I N U E D





BUILDING A covered bridge and long concourse will connect many of the buildings that make up the new medical center. The reception area of Clinic Building North, below left, which houses patient services including a large audiology clinic, will help welcome visitors.


ABOUT TIME ... Work began in 2011 on a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility to replace the 60-year-old Eastern Colorado Health Care System in Denver. The journey to complete the replacement health care facility, located in nearby Aurora, Colo., and expected to open in 2018, has been long and anything but easy.

2009 VA officials and local government leaders attend groundbreaking ceremony

2011 Kiewit-Turner starts construction on the replacement medical center

2013 Due to soaring construction costs, KT sues the VA

2014 KT wins its case against the VA

2015 Congress allows VA to resume the project but orders USACE to take over management

2017 The project is more than 90 percent complete

2018 The new Colorado veterans hospital is expected to open






The invasive silver carp may be out-competing native species that are commercially and recreationally desirable. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working to keep the fish out of the Great Lakes. MICHAEL HEINZ/(THE WEST LAFAYETTE, IND.) JOURNAL & COURIER





Underwater structures that help deter Asian carp from entering the area, are placed in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in Romeoville, Ill.

Asian carp pose a threat to native marine life



Are the Corps’ efforts to keep Asian carp from the Great Lakes working?

By Stacey Freed


HE U.S. ARMY CORPS of Engineers (USACE) and several other federal agencies are on the front lines of the years-long battle against Asian carp migration. There’s a major focus on the region near the Chicago Area Waterways System (CAWS), where experts work to prevent the species from invading the Great Lakes. The non-native carp, which affect the food chain by devouring plankton, “are a very real threat to a $7 billion fishing industry that includes everything from fishing lures to boat gas,” said Jan Jeffrey Hoover, a research fishery biologist at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss. In 2002, USACE built an electric barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC), a manmade waterway built in 1900 that joins the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan. There are currently three barriers in the canal, including the Demonstration Barrier and two others to the south. A new Barrier 1 will replace the demonstration project by the end of 2017, and the Corps is now monitoring

the system to determine whether it works. The electric barriers function much the same way as invisible dog fences: The Corps placed steel electrodes 160 feet across the bottom of the CSSC, about 25 feet down, which pulse electricity, generated in nearby control buildings. “We’ve created an electromagnetic field in the water, and the fish’s nervous system is sensitive to it,” explained Col. Christopher Drew, commander and district engineer for USACE Chicago District. “If (the carp) swim into the field, they become uncomfortable and turn back. If they ignore the discomfort at its highest point, they’re rendered unconscious. The flow of the canal sends them back out of the system, and they wake up.” The electric barriers appear to be doing their job. “There are no Asian carp at the barrier,” Drew said. Currently, the leading edge of the Asian carp migration “is about 47 miles from Lake Michigan,” with an abundance of the carp in Illinois’ Dresden Island pool — an area where the water level is affected by a lock and a dam. USACE also judges the barriers’ effectiveness by implanting other fish with radio transmitters. “We release the fish down-

stream,” said Chuck Shea, project manager for the CSSC Dispersal Barriers project. Instinct tells the fish to go back to where it came from. As it moves upstream, receivers along the walls of the canal track it. “We’ve never been able to get an active tag swimming through the electrical field. That gives us confidence that this is working,” Shea said. But, over the years, critics have pointed to the occasional bighead or silver carp — or evidence of their DNA in one of the Great Lakes — as proof that the barriers don’t work. But, as Duane Chapman, research fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, points out, “Other things can move DNA around” — birds drop fish; the carp’s slime is on removal boats out fishing for them; or, while it’s not allowed, fishermen sometimes use carp as bait. Although the electric barriers seem to be serving their purpose, Hoover said USACE and other agencies are working on a variety of initiatives to further curb the problem. “We need to be vigilant,” Hoover added. “The fact that they’re not in the Great Lakes now, and they’re not in the upper Mississippi River in appreciable numbers, says there’s some kind of effective barrier at work there.”

Silver and bighead carp were first brought to the U.S. in the 1970s to help manage algae growth in fish farms near the Gulf of Mexico, said Col. Christopher Drew, commander and district engineer for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Chicago District. In their decades-long journey, this invasive, hardy and fecund nuisance with no natural predators in North America has been causing trouble for commercial and recreational boaters and other water enthusiasts. The silver carp, which can weigh up to 60 pounds and has serrated fins, “has an annoying habit of jumping out of the water when they get scared,” said Duane Chapman, a recognized expert on Asian carp. Waterskiers and boaters have been injured. The silver and bighead carp also can consume up to 35 percent of their body mass — per day — in plankton. “These two are dangerous since they can change the food chain,” Chapman said. USACE has “a four-pronged strategy” for dealing with the carp, said Felicia Kirksey, the Chicago District’s aquatic invasive species program manager: ▶ Operating and maintaining electric barriers to deter carp movement between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin; ▶ Conducting efficacy studies to identify the hazards that may affect the electric barriers; ▶ Monitoring the Chicago Area Waterways System for carp; ▶ Identifying options and technology to stop the carp from moving into the Great Lakes. — Stacey Freed



Damage to the Oroville Dam’s main spillway allowed water to flow over the emergency spillway, triggering a two-day evacution in February. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/GETTY IMAGES



WAKE-UP CALL brings maintenance maintenance A near-disaster at the nation’s tallest dam brings and emergency action planning to the forefront forefront

By Adam Hadhazy


OR THOSE LIVING DOWNSTREAM from the Oroville Dam near Oroville, Calif., it was a scary few days. With a drenching, Northern California wet season swelling the dam’s reservoir, operators routinely opened drainage gates to send water down a concrete spillway into the nearby Feather River. But on Feb. 7, the flowing water suddenly gouged a cavernous hole in the spillway. To limit further spillway damage and spare electrical lines connected to the dam’s hydropower plant, operators let water cascade over onto an emergency spillway — a bare, earthen hillside — for the first time since Oroville’s construction in 1968. This plan B nearly catastrophically backfired, however. Erosion of the emergency spillway’s soil and rock slope began creeping back up toward the concrete barrier separating it from the reservoir. If the erosion had undermined the barrier, causing it to collapse, a 30-foot wall of water would have roared downriver, endangering residents in small nearby cities including Oroville and Yuba City. On Feb. 12, local officials ordered the evacuation of more than 180,000 people. Meanwhile, workers raced to shore up both the main and emergency spillways, dropping bags of rocks and sand from helicopters. A day later, reservoir levels lowered enough for the crisis to pass. The Oroville dam’s 819-megawatt hydropower facility (enough for around 600,000 homes), homes), which was shuttered shortly after the main spillway’s fracturing, came back online in early March. Even with disaster averted and no lives lost, the Oroville situation nevertheless served as a wake-up call for dam operators nationwide. Those paying keen attention included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which owns and operates 715 dams nationwide and provides nearly a

viewof ofthe the AAview heavilydamaged damaged heavily spillwayin inOroville, Oroville, spillway Calif.,in inApril April2017. 2017. Calif.,


quarter of the country’s country’s hydropower. hydropower. “Oroville was aa really really serious serious incident incident that the whole industry industry is is going going to to learn learn from,” said Eric Halpin, and for Halpin, deputy special dam assistant levee safety officer at USACE. dam and levee safety at USACE. In many ways, ways, the the Oroville Oroville Dam Dam is is aa microcosm of the the challenges challenges dams dams face face nationally as they they age age and and their their maintemaintenance falls behind behind schedule. schedule. The Oroville incident incident has has also also highlighted highlighted dam safety programs, programs, which which run run the the gamut from making making prioritized prioritized repairs repairs and and developing emergency emergency action action plans plans to to comcom-

municating municating risk riskto tothe thepublic. public.Following Following these these procedures procedurescan canultimately ultimatelysave savelives, lives, limit limit property propertydestruction destructionand and— —when when safety safety isis assured assured— —keep keepthe thehydropower hydropower cranking, cranking, according accordingto toHalpin. Halpin. The The Oroville OrovilleDam Damincident incidentmay mayhave have shocked shocked aa lot lotof ofpeople, people,“But “Butaalot lotreally really went went right right there therethat thatshows showsthe thevalue valueof ofaa dam dam safety safety program,” program,”Halpin Halpinsaid. said.


AA linchpin linchpin of ofCalifornia’s California’sstatewide statewidewater water system system that that delivers deliversdrinking drinkingwater waterto to25 25

millionresidents, residents,the themassive massiveOroville Oroville million Damstretches stretchesmore morethan thanaamile mileacross across Dam andstands stands770 770feet feethigh, high,making makingititthe the and country’stallest tallestdam. dam.State Stateauthorities authorities country’s designedthe thefacility facilityand andcontinue continueto toown own designed andregulate regulateit. it. and OverOroville’s Oroville’snearly nearlyfive fivedecades decadesofof Over service,USACE USACEinvolvement involvementwith withthe the service, projecthas hasfocused focusedon onits itswater watercontrol control project plan,which whichoutlines outlinesprocedures proceduresto touphold uphold plan, federallymandated mandatedflood floodcontrol. control.USACE USACEisis federally advisingto toaacertain certainextent extenton onrepairs repairsand and advising possibleprocedural proceduralchanges changesatatOroville. Oroville.For For possible example,USACE’s USACE’splan planprescribes prescribesreleases releases example, ofwater waterto tomaintain maintainsafe safereservoir reservoirlevels levels of whilenot notoverwhelming overwhelmingdownstream downstream while humaninfrastructure infrastructureor orharming harmingthe the human environment. environment. The1960s 1960ssaw sawthe thepeak peakofofdam dambuilding building The inthe thenation, nation,when whenmore morethan than20,000 20,000 in outof ofthe the90,580 90,580dams damspresently presentlylisted listedinin out theNational NationalInventory Inventoryof ofDams Dams(NID) (NID)——aa the databasemaintained maintainedby byUSACE USACE——reached reached database completion. completion. Another25,000 25,000or orso sowere wereerected erectedinin Another the1950s 1950sand and1970s, 1970s,meaning meaningthat thatmost mostofof the thenation’s nation’sdams damsare aremore morethan than50 50years years the old.Half Halfof ofthe theUSACE’s USACE’s700-plus, 700-plus,ownedownedold. and-operatedfacilities facilitieshave havereached reachedor or and-operated exceeded exceededthis thismilestone, milestone,while whilenearly nearly all all——95 95percent percent——have havebeen beenoperating operatingfor for at atleast least30 30years. years. Engineers Engineersdesigned designedmany manyofofthese these dams damswith withthe theexpectation expectationofofaa50-year 50-year service servicelife. life.Keeping Keepingthe thedams damscompetent competent to toprotect protectthose thosewho whodepend dependon onthem themfor for flood floodreduction, reduction,as aswell wellas astheir theirenergy energy generation generationand andother otherbenefits, benefits,isisaaconstant constant exercise. exercise. “We “Wedo doregular, regular,risk-informed risk-informedassessassessment mentof ofour ourdams damsin indeciding decidingwhat whatkinds kinds of ofactions actionsto totake takeon onthem, them,where whereto toinvest invest and andhow howurgently,” urgently,”Halpin Halpinsaid. said. The Theapproach approachbrings bringsmathematical mathematical calculations calculationsand anddata datatogether togetherwith withhistory history and andhuman humaninsight insightto toanticipate anticipatesmaller, smaller, manageable manageableissues issuesbefore beforethey theybecome become bigger, bigger,daunting dauntingproblems. problems. In Inthis thismanner, manner,USACE USACErelies relieson onaaratings ratings CO CONNTTI INNUUEEDD



metric called the Dam Safety Action Class (DSAC) for its facilities. Corps dams categorized as DSAC I require immediate repairs, with DSAC IIs and IIIs commanding a bit less urgency. Around 40 percent of the USACE portfolio, or 300-some dams, fall within those top three DSAC categories. These facilities are all either undergoing construction work or studies regarding potential refurbishment, removal or transfer to other federal or state agencies for ownership. “All the high-priority dams have some kind of action on them,” Halpin said. The Army Corps invests $300 million to $500 million per year on dam safety repairs, with an overall price tag of about $22 billion. At present appropriation rates from Congress, getting through the whole DSAC backlog will take until the 2060s.

like bridges and dams, that we’re just not maintaining,” Baecher said. “And if you don’t maintain them, eventually one of them is going to bite you.”


Around 15,500 dams in the NID database are considered by regulators to be “high hazard,” meaning one or more people would likely die as a result of dam misoperation or failure. Population growth downriver from many dams since their original construction has contributed to the elevated hazard ratings. According to the NID, 20 percent of high-hazard dams do not have emergency action plans, which detail the steps to take in case of a serious mishap and contain flood maps to guide evacuations and first responses downstream. Oroville did have an action plan in place that, alongside the USACEprovided water control plan, helped A NATIONAL PROBLEM guide operators and local officials The state of affairs for non-USACE through the February crisis. dams nationwide is similarly dire. In its aftermath, a five-person, In the latest quadrennial independent forensic review team infrastructure report card issued by was appointed to the American Society diagnose what went of Civil Engineers, wrong and how to fix the country’s dams USACE OWNS the problems. Initial scored a D. The professional organiAND OPERATES estimates from the head of the California zation characterizes Department of Water this infrastructure Resources (DWR) put grade as indicative the repair or replaceof “poor to fair ment of the damaged condition,” with a main spillway, which “large portion of the will need to be system exhibit(ing) completed by next significant deterioraDAMS winter’s wet season, tion. Condition and NATIONWIDE at $100 million to capacity are of $200 million. serious concern, with While it is too strong risk of failure.” soon to pinpoint the exact cause of Admittedly, those poor marks the main spillway’s failure, experts have not changed since the first speculate that a process called report card on dams two decades cavitation may be to blame. In prior. In this way, the U.S. has been rapidly moving water, air bubbles “lucky” that a more serious dam can form that pop with enough disaster has not occurred in modcumulative force to pit the concrete, ern times, said Gregory Baecher, a destabilizing it. Movement of soil professor in the department of civil under the spillway could also have and environmental engineering contributed, as well as unrepaired at the University of Maryland and cracks from inevitable wear and co-author of Operational Safety of tear. Dams and Reservoirs. Multiple reports have additionA spate of domestic dam failures ally questioned the frequency and in the 1970s, including Canyon adequacy of regular inspections at Lake Dam in South Dakota in 1972, Oroville, although a final assessand Teton Dam in Idaho in 1976, ment will have to await the review killed hundreds of people, leading team’s findings, expected to be to increased federal oversight and released in the fall. The issue is a solid safety record since. But the hardly Oroville’s alone: USA TODAY longer repairs are put off and the reported in February that nearly weaker the inspection regimen, the half of California’s 1,585 dams have more fate will be tempted. not been inspected in adherence to “The take-home lesson here is we scheduled frequency. have some critical infrastructure,



Workers look over the diversion pool across from the damaged spillway at Oroville Dam in Oroville, Calif., in February 2017. Overflow waters from the emergency spillway eroded much of the area below the spillway, causing fears of massive flooding.

“If Oroville tells us anything, it’s that maintenance is really, really important,” Baecher said. “If what happened is that the concrete was cracked, that would have been prevented by good maintenance.” A bit of blame can be laid at nature’s feet as well. According to the National Weather Service, Northern California experienced its wettest winter on record on the heels of an extreme, multi year drought throughout much of the state. “It’s just absolutely amazing the winter we’ve had,” said Glen Pearson, a retired DWR engineering geologist and adjunct lecturer in the geological and environmental sciences department at California State University, Chico. “This year has shown us that what is going to happen this next year is really unknown.” However, based on design specifications and operating history, Oroville should have been able to handle even this past winter’s deluge. The amount of water rushing out of the reservoir and down the spillway when it cracked apart was only 65,000 cubic feet per second — less than half of its intended maximum capacity.


Debris from that shattered spillway also exacerbated the situation at the Oroville Dam by blocking the outlet for the hydropower station, preventing an additional 14,000 cubic feet of water per second from shunting out of the reservoir. Only after this debris was cleared, weeks later, could hydropower resume, giving operators an additional way to manage reservoir levels. Though hydropower production is a key benefit offered by dams nationwide, when a dam is deemed in need of preventive maintenance, or is undergoing a crisis situation, that hydropower is taken offline. “Public safety is always the No. 1 thing,” Halpin said. “All the other benefit streams are subservient to that primary objective of public safety, and that was just the case with Oroville.” Moving forward, Halpin is hopeful that the risk-informed assessments now practiced fully by USACE, and increasingly by other operators, will keep even old dams functioning well in the decades to come. “Dam safety is evolving and improving,” Halpin said. A riskinformed approach is “good for our sanity, and when we go to sleep at night, it assures us we’re doing the right thing.”



0, 2017 –3 7 2 E JUN










USACE reflects on lessons learned 5 years later

Jay Hershey, a debris engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers New York Recovery Field Office, inspects a house destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. BRANDON BEACH


people were used to getting their inundation data from past events, and “we were showing what could happen T WAS A STORM of unimaginable in the future.” force: In late October 2012, HurBut this has changed following the ricane Sandy wound its way superstorm. “I think the public got it in north from the Caribbean, picking a very visceral way,” she said, noting up strength as it approached that communities now ask about sea the Atlantic coastline of the United level rise. States. Then, on Oct. 29, after drawing As a result of Sandy, the Corps energy from several other weather conducted the North Atlantic Coast systems, Sandy turned sharply and Comprehensive Study (NACCS), which slammed into Atlantic City, pounding looked at storm risk reduction and the surrounding area, including New identified nine regions for further York City, before continuing westward analysis: the Rhode Island and Conacross Pennsylvania. necticut coastlines; the New York-New In all, the superstorm killed 117 Jersey harbor and tributaries; the people in the United States, cut power New Jersey, Delaware and New York to 2 million more, wrecked 650,000 back bays; and the cities of Baltimore, homes and left behind a mess for the Norfolk, Va., and Washington, D.C. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As part of the NACCS, the Corps But as destructive as the storm pulled together was, there were disparate storm lessons to be and surge models learned — some “We already have — including the one that USACE taught White showcased others, and some ... teams of folks for New York City the Corps learned who (are prepared officials — to create or confirmed for a common, foundaitself. Five years to deploy) in tional post-Sandy later, the public has the event of a regional approach to come to understand the North Atlantic why modeling sea disaster.” region, said Joseph level changes and — Ed Voigt, Philadelphia Vietri, director of conducting beachfill District public and the Coastal Storm projects are so legislative affairs chief Risk Management important, and the National Center of Corps districts in Expertise in the the North Atlantic USACE North Atlantic Division. Division continue to study the effects “It was basically a suite of storm of back-bay flooding, nature-based models that are all linked together,” storm mitigation techniques and Vietri said. “The only time this has issues of environmental justice. ever been done before was for a very MODELS MATTER — small area in the Katrina zone.” KEEP THEM COMING Vietri sees this basic foundational approach being exported to other Days before Hurricane Sandy struck regions. In the meantime, White is the greater New York metropolitan looking at another issue raised by area, a team, including USACE climate the NACCS: how Sandy’s storm preparedness lead Kate White, waves responded to different coastal scheduled a meeting with local landforms. The storm’s “nonlinearity” officials. The purpose, White said, was will have to be incorporated into to show them a new surge model that future, further-refined models, she took into account sea level change. said. “They had a very extensive set of maps showing different conditions BEACHFILL PROJECTS that would result from different sea WORK — FILL IN THE GAPS level changes in surge-type events,” White recalled. Many of them showed When Sandy struck the New the Rockaways area of New York Jersey shoreline and moved inland, submerged, which did occur during the Federal Emergency Management the storm, she said. Agency (FEMA) tasked the USACE Although field experts are used to Philadelphia District with handling 27 accounting for climate change and its flood-related emergencies throughout effect on sea levels, at the time, it was the state. (Normally, when it comes to a “little controversial” among state and local stakeholders, White said, because CO N T I N U E D


By Erik Schechter



After Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers helped clean up areas in New York, such as Staten Island, top, and Long Island, bottom.




Disaster recovery was not the only goal of USACE following Hurricane Sandy. The subsequent North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study was conducted to help better prepare coastal areas for future storms and reduce risk of severe damage. repairs, studies and new construction, New Jersey is divvied up between the Corps’ Philadelphia and New York districts.) Immediate tasks included assessing the damage and hiring a construction firm to restore access to the seaside borough of Mantoloking, cut off from the mainland when the storm breached New Jersey’s Barnegat Peninsula. Then there was the flooded wastewater treatment plant in Newark, N.J., which the Corps had to pump out. But USACE was ready for the FEMA assignments. “We already have predesignated teams of folks who (are prepared to deploy) in the event of a disaster,” said Ed Voigt, Philadelphia District public and legislative affairs chief. Likewise, there were few surprises in the areas where the Corps had completed beachfill projects along Delaware’s Atlantic coast and parts of New Jersey. “Where those projects were in place, they worked,” Voigt noted. “They worked quite well.” However, there were sections of Long Beach Island, N.J., where there were no dunes or berms in place.

“I flew over the coastline three days after Sandy and couldn’t believe how little damage I saw to structures behind our completed beaches.” — Anthony Ciorra, USACE New York District coastal restoration branch chief

“There’s aerial photography, ground photography — all kinds of eyewitnesses — to see that the contrast was fairly striking in some of those cases, especially the properties and structures right along the oceanfront,” Voigt said. “(In) the unprotected areas, some of them were destroyed.” Voigt argues that the Barnegat Peninsula would have benefitted from a beachfill project. “Much of the damage (there) was from backbay flooding, which at first might seem like something no oceanfront project could reduce,” he said. “But a huge contributor to that flooding was the breach in the peninsula at Mantoloking, where Sandy blasted a new channel for ocean waters to pour through.” By the end of 2013, USACE had restored 11 of the New Jersey and

Delaware beach projects hit by Sandy, and the Philadelphia District has also received funds to begin construction on projects previously authorized by Congress. All developed portions of the New Jersey and Delaware shoreline are now in the restoration process, Voigt said.


As compared with New York City and the Jersey shore, which were pummeled by Sandy, the Tidewater region of Virginia — which includes the city of Norfolk and one of the world’s largest naval bases — got off relatively easy with minor flooding. Nevertheless, the hurricane had a major impact on the area, noted Greg Steele, chief of the Norfolk District’s

water resources division. Now, a nine-step Coastal Storm Risk Management Framework, created by NACCS, has been introduced to partners in the Norfolk District. The strategy incorporates the approach the Army Corps of Engineers used for risk reduction and recommended its use in the Tidewater area. In addition, the NACCS placed a renewed emphasis on nature-based features to improve storm resilience. “In the past, we might have thrown up a wall, and that would’ve been the end of it,” said Steele. But now the idea is to consider living shorelines of rock, plants and sand. “So you’re looking at things like whether or not offshore breakwater reefs are needed in certain areas.” Whatever the case, a living shoreline is a layered defense intended to absorb water and wave energy and not just deflect it, with possible negative repercussions for other areas elsewhere. Another post-Sandy development the Corps is trying to tackle is the non-monetary impacts of large storms. Previously, the Corps simply looked at the value of a property or structure, and “if the damage that you are preventing justifies the project dollars, that’s all you care about,” explained Steele. But that approach short-changed poor communities, and the goal now is to consider environmental justice. “We want to be better at including these non-monetary factors in decision making, but are in the very infancy of figuring out how to do that,” he added.


When Congress appropriated $5.3 billion for USACE under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, the New York District got the lion’s share of that amount, $3.2 billion, according to Anthony Ciorra, the district’s coastal restoration branch chief. Of that money, more than $1 billion has been spent restoring existing beach and dune projects damaged by the superstorm. “We replaced over 15 million cubic yards of sand to restore those beaches between July 2013 and December 2014,” Ciorra said. As with Philadelphia District, the Long Island beach projects did much better than areas without dunes or that relied solely on a seawall. “I flew over the coastline three days after CO N T I N U E D





SEMONITE ON SANDY Agencies work together to mitigate disasters


Following Hurricane Sandy, USACE engineers traveled to Monmouth County in New Jersey to pump sand onto the beaches to reinforce the eroding shoreline. Sandy and couldn’t believe how little damage I saw to structures behind our completed beaches,” he said. But the storm still outflanked some beaches like Sea Bright and Monmouth, N.J., parts of which fall under the New York District’s jurisdiction, with flooding from the bay side. Ciorra said the Corps had always been aware of the potential for back-bay flooding, but it was a lesson they had to re-learn. “There was a perception that risks were greater along the oceanfront,” he noted, “but I think Sandy demonstrated … that your back-bay flooding can be just as significant, if not even worse, and we are now looking at these projects holistically.” The New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk districts have either just started or are scheduled to begin in-depth NACCS spinoff studies that, over the span of three years, will look at areas holistically, accounting for flooding and effects beyond a storm simply slapping against a coastline. In the meantime, the New York

District is conducting preliminary work on 11 projects that had been authorized before Sandy but had not been constructed due to a lack of funds or trouble with real estate easements. Ciorra said these projects, had they been built before 2012, could have mitigated at least some of the storm damage. However, they were not designed to account for back-bay flooding or a Sandy-level storm — and they won’t be altered to do so. “If you change the authorized projects too significantly, you would have to go back and get new authorization,” he said. “The goal was to get many of these projects in the ground, underway and constructed as soon as possible.” Ultimately, there are any number of lessons that can be pulled from the Sandy experience, said Vietri. But the most important one is that, given the reality of sea level change, “we — the bigger we, the societal we — are going to have to make some big decisions on how we continue to live, work and operate in these coastal environments.”

Superstorm Sandy was a learning lesson for the nation, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, when it ripped through the northeast U.S. five years ago. Army Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite said federal agencies are gleaning as much from the storm as possible to prevent similar devastation in the future. “We are always refining our processes and rehearsing with our partners ahead of the next storm, earthquake or other disaster,” Semonite told USA TODAY in a written response. “We continue to analyze and implement lessons learned from all our response efforts so that we achieve continuous improvement.” In fact, USACE already has made changes to its procedures and tested them, Semonite said. “We applied many of the lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy into our response to Hurricane Matthew late last fall.” Although some equate USACE primarily with constructing buildings and bridges, disaster relief responsibilities also fall under the Corps’ mission, Semonite explained. “We are the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s engineer. That means we are the lead coordinator, working with the Department of Homeland Security through FEMA, for (public works and engineering) within the national response framework. Our response to Superstorm Sandy actually supports one of our strategic goals of reducing disaster risk for Americans.” That’s no small feat, and the price tag reflects that. USACE has used $1.5 billion of the $5 billion allotted to reduce flood risk in regions affected by Sandy. However, those numbers pale in comparison to the storm’s financial toll. According to a 2015 FEMA report, Sandy cost New York nearly $16.9 billion. “This construction will reduce economic costs and risks associated with large-scale floods and storms by supporting the long-term sustainability of the coastal ecosystem and communities,” Semonite said. “Our mutual effort to build and sustain great relationships with our interagency partners prior to a disaster continue to provide tangible value in our programs to support Americans and American interests.” – Tracy Scott Forson


In 2011, then-Maj. Gen. Todd Semonite meets with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials following a tornado in Alabama.





Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and civilian contractors remove debris from waterways in the historic district of Ellicott City, Md., in 2016, following a destructive flash flood.



By Brian Barth

HISTORY USACE rises to the challenge of saving historical structures

N PRINCE GEORGE STREET in Annapolis, Md., just a block from the harbor on the Chesapeake Bay, stands a simple clapboard home with butter-yellow siding and burgundy trim. There is nothing fancy about it at first glance, but for local architectural historians, it is a treasure trove. Known as the Sands House for the family who occupied it for six generations, the wood-framed home is one of the oldest in Annapolis, a city that boasts more 18th-century structures than any other urban area in the United States — at least 70, according to the Maryland Historical Trust. Historians believe the home was built circa 1700, on the site of an even older home, which itself had been built on a Native American site dating back 1,600 years. In 1988, archaeologists dug into the earth beneath the basement and discovered a multitude of artifacts, including a Colonial-era flintlock, a coin, a toothbrush, pipe stems, thimbles and pins, as well as bits of Native American pottery. It was fortunate these treasures were recovered when they CO N T I N U E D







Recent flood waters caused deaths and severe damage to homes, businesses and cars in Ellicott City, Md., just miles from Annapolis, where high waters also threatened the Sands House, right, built in the 1700s. were, as in recent years the basement of the Sands House, along with much of Annapolis’ famed historic district, has become increasingly prone to flooding. After Hurricane Isabel passed through in 2003, kayakers plied the downtown avenues in 4 feet of standing water. Hurricanes Ernesto, Irene and Sandy all drowned parts of the city in floodwater in later years, but recently, heavy rains have become even more common. They are increasingly causing flooding as a result of a confluence of climatic factors — global warming — that Annapolis’ earlier inhabitants could have never envisioned. As water

the solutions must be custom-tailored from the Chesapeake Bay inches higher, to the construction style of the various rainwater is slower to drain and collects in buildings, which are anything but standardbasements and city streets. ized. And because many of them are part “Sea level rise, coupled with heavier of a designated historic district, USACE than usual rainfall patterns, is changing engineers must coordinate extensively the hydrology all over the Chesapeake Bay with federal, state and local preservation region,” said Stacey Underwood, Floodplain authorities to come up with flood-proofing Management Services program manager at strategies that will not undermine the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) historic character of the structures. Baltimore District. “The Corps often assists Often, the approach involves “dry communities in flood-proofing individual floodproofing” — sealing off all possible buildings, but the historic nature of places floodwater entry points like Annapolis make it a (doors, windows, vents, little more complex.” foundations, etc.) to a In 2014, USACE com“Historically, we height of about 3 feet. In pleted a nonstructural some cases, the entire mitigation assessment built close to structure can be elevated for the city’s historic rivers because in and placed on a higher district, which looked at foundation. In buildings 147 historically sigthe old days that’s with high ceilings, USACE nificant structures in the how we carried may recommend simply city, including the Sands raising the interior floor House, as part of an out commerce; as a safeguard against ongoing effort to develop that’s how we flood damage. For the flood-proofing strategies Sands House, the team to preserve these unique traveled.” recommended filling in heritage assets. The — Stephan O’Leary, the basement to prevent Baltimore District is also architect USACE National floodwaters from seeping involved in planning Nonstructural Flood up and modifying the for structural flood Proofing Committee grade of the surrounding mitigation throughout landscape to direct runoff the region — flood walls, away from the building. levees, pumping systems Underwood said a variety of similar and the like — but given that these forms studies are underway throughout the of hard infrastructure take years to build region, including at the historic Navy and are extraordinarily expensive, the Yard in Washington, D.C. “There is no Floodplain Management Services program easy formula for how to deal with these is exploring small, affordable interventions buildings,” Underwood said. “It’s a to protect individual buildings. While the case-by-case approach that we work out work must be carried out by the building with the historic preservation professionals owners, the program provides invaluable technical assistance. The challenge, said Underwood, is that CO N T I N U E D





Engineer Arlene Weiner and Michael Vaccaro, a safety engineer tech, oversee the clearing of debris impacting drainage following flooding in Ellicott City, Md.


“The Corps often assists communities in flood-proofing individual buildings, but the historic nature of places like Annapolis make it a little more complex.” — Stacey Underwood, Floodplain Management Services program manager at USACE Baltimore District

at each site.” The low-lying, marshy Chesapeake Bay region where Annapolis is located is experiencing sea level rise at about twice the global rate, according to the Geological Society of America. This is due in part to

naturally-occurring subsidence — the land is sinking as the sea rises. That is of little comfort to residents, who increasingly find brackish water bubbling up from neighborhood storm drains, or to civic leaders charged with protecting their communities during the increasingly virulent storms that have battered the region in recent years. In the Hampton Roads region of Virginia at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay, where Naval Station Norfolk is located, the U.S. Geologic Survey found that sea levels rose 14.5 inches between 1930 and 2010. This means flooding isn’t just a problem during big storms. Whenever high tide coincides with a strong onshore wind,

communities in the area are prone to tidal flooding, also referred to as nuisance flooding or “sunny-day” flooding, in the parlance of climate change scientists. In Annapolis, tidal flooding occurred 41 times during 2014, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Marco Ciarla, an environmental engineer with USACE’s Baltimore District, said there is another, often overlooked factor that compounds flood risk over time, which figures heavily in the challenges facing the region: the march of urbanization. As forests and fields become parking lots and CO N T I N U E D





Workers must use heavy machinery to remove debris, relocated during floods, from vital waterways and drainage areas. ALFREDO BARRAZA/U.S. ARMY


Paved roads may be a sign of a developed community, but the absence of plush green grass and vegetation to soak up water leads to more flooding.

and subsidence, it’s like you’re getting buildings, heavy rains rapidly flow off squeezed from every direction at once.” these impervious surfaces and into local Today, zoning regulations, building waterways, rather than soaking into the codes and a better ground. An increase understanding of in impervious hydrology largely surfaces upstream “Sea level rise prevent structures leads to swollen from being built in a rivers downstream, a coupled with location or in a manreality that residents heavier than usual ner that could make of Ellicott City, Md., them vulnerable to a charming historic rainfall patterns flooding. But there are town located about is changing the innumerable historic 20 miles inland from structures across the the bay at the confluhydrology all over country that are ence of several creeks the Chesapeake highly vulnerable to and the Patapsco flooding. River, experienced Bay region.” Stephen O’Leary, in 2016 when 6 — Stacey Underwood, an architect with the inches of rain fell in Floodplain Management USACE’s National two hours, leaving Services program manager Nonstructural Flood two people dead and at USACE Baltimore District Proofing Committee causing $22 million in (NFPC), said the Anproperty damage. napolis study marked “There are a lot the first time the Corps has looked at of highly urbanized areas upstream flood-proofing historic buildings in a of many of the historic towns in the comprehensive way, but that the issue is area,” said Ciarla, who is working on a “a new focus” for the agency at large. In flood-proofing assessment for Ellicott the past, said O’Leary, waterways were City’s historic downtown. “When often the lifeblood of a community, you combine all those impermeable providing energy, transportation and surfaces with bigger storms at higher other essential services, so they were a frequencies, along with sea level rise

natural focal point for urban development. Now these districts are a natural focal point for preservation. “Historically, we built close to rivers because in the old days that’s how we carried out commerce; that’s how we traveled. Over time, with increased development, the hydrology of the rivers has changed. So it’s opening up a conversation at the national level about how to reduce risk on historic structures,” he said. Similar efforts are underway elsewhere. USACE is surveying the historic heart of Philadelphia to assess for flood risk; and last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency invited the NFPC to Baton Rouge, La., to provide assistance following historic flooding that swamped much of the state’s southern region. O’Leary said property damage from flooding has escalated in recent decades and now averages more than $10 billion per year nationally. “There is a tremendous interest in trying to drive down those losses,” he said. “Among those losses, we’re discovering all these historic properties that are very vulnerable to flooding.” And as anyone who has ever owned an older home knows, historic structures are always the most costly to repair.





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The nation’s largest hydrologic restoration project aims to make the Florida Everglades everlasting

By Matt Alderton


IVERS ARE NATURE’S JACKS-IN-THE-BOX. Most of the time, they idle quietly within the confines of their banks. Sometimes, however, they break free, charging from their riverbeds with sudden, surging gusto. Florida’s Kissimmee River used to spring from its box on a regular basis. Connecting Lake Kissimmee in Central Florida with Lake Okeechobee to the south, the river would fill to capacity during heavy rainfall, then disgorge excess water into its 2-mile floodplain. Wildlife — including herons and alligators — loved it. Humans did not. In 1948, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to tame the Kissimmee River. The Corps channelized the river in the 1960s, turning its sauntering


curves into straight lines as flood control for Florida’s burgeoning population. Water that once journeyed 103 circuitous miles to Lake Okeechobee was instead funneled 56 miles through a concrete ditch known as the C-38 canal, ensuring fast and efficient evacuation of rainwater from the central Florida basin. To the delight of adjacent landowners, flooding became a thing of the past. Unfortunately, so did many native flora and fauna, whose populations declined rapidly, according to scientists who analyzed the river ecosystem during and after construction. Based on their findings and resulting public outcry, a movement to “put the river back” commenced before the canal’s completion in 1972. Scientists subsequently studied restoration options CO N T I N U E D







Predicted restoration flow

Everglades National Park

As a result of human activity, there are fewer egrets, cougars and other wildlife flourishing in the delicate Everglades ecosystem. MAP: MIRANDA PELLICANO; PHOTOS: NATIONAL PARK SERVICE (2); RHONA WISE








in the 1970s and ’80s, which ultimately led Congress to authorize restoration of the middle third of the channelized Kissimmee River in 1992, 20 years after the construction of the C-38 canal. Although work won’t conclude until 2020, results already are evident. Native plants, animals and fish have returned, and so has the river’s natural, meandering course. “Everything from the aquatic wading bird population to native vegetation to the volume of fish in reported fisheries is being restored,” said Howard Gonzales, chief of the ecosystem branch in the Corps’ Jacksonville District. “Mother Nature has reclaimed that floodplain.” The Kissimmee River’s changing fortunes bode well for a related, yet far larger scope of work currently underway in the Florida Everglades. Known as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), it eventually will resuscitate Florida’s largest and most endangered ecosystem. First, though, the Corps-led program — the largest environmental restoration program in U.S. history — must overcome a bevy of challenges that threaten its swift progress and successful conclusion.


What happened to the Kissimmee River also happened to the Everglades, which supplies drinking water for 8.2 million Floridians and habitat for 72 threatened or endangered species, according to Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades

Foundation, whose mission is restoring the Everglades, only a third of which remains. (Others estimate that half of the original 3 million acres is gone.) In the 19th century, he said, portions of the Everglades were drained to create dry land on which to live and farm. Because hurricane tides frequently overtopped their embankments causing flooding, the Corps fortified them in the 1930s by building Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee. When the Corps dredged the Kissimmee River, its contents drained into the lake, around which the Corps simultaneously built a massive network of canals, levees and water storage areas to divert sheet flow east and west instead of south, thereby containing the lake. The sugarcane fields and suburbs that punctuate the land between Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay are proof that it worked. However, nature was, again, an unintended casualty. “The work (USACE) did in the 1960s caused ecological destruction to the lake itself and to the communities around it,” Eikenberg said. “When the Corps, the federal government and the state government realized the sins of the previous generation, they began restoring the ecosystem back to its natural beauty.” CERP is the program through which they’re doing it. A 50-50 partnership between Florida and the federal government — whose agents are the South Florida Water Management District and the Corps, respectively — was

established by Congress in the Water Resources Development Act of 2000, which laid out a program with 68 components, expected to cost $10.5 billion and take more than 30 years to complete. Seventeen years later, six are underway and just one has been completed. Finishing the program’s work, the Corps estimates, will take an extra $5.9 billion and an additional 23 years.


In some respects, the damage is already done. “We’re not going to take areas that were developed either for agricultural use or residential use and turn them back into Everglades,” said Gonzales, USACE’s Everglades program manager. “It’s just not feasible.” What is feasible is restoring the natural, southerly flow of water from the Kissimmee River into Florida Bay via Lake Okeechobee, which will infuse what’s left of the Everglades with the water it needs. We want to “provide a landscape where threatened and endangered species can continue to rebound and grow,” Gonzales explained. Progress toward that goal has been too slow for some, including the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which assesses CERP’s advancements every two years on behalf of the federal government. Its most recent report, published in CO N T I N U E D





Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ 1947 book, The Everglades: River of Grass, provided the nickname for the popular tourist attraction.


“Everything from the aquatic wading bird population to the native vegetation to the volume of fish in reported fisheries is being restored.” — Howard Gonzales, chief of the ecosystem branch, USACE Jacksonville District

December, expressed serious concerns about the program, beginning with its funding. Or rather, its lack thereof. “The original assumption was that … there would be a significant investment from the federal government and the state of Florida to the tune of $200 million each per year. If you look at our federal and state appropriations, we haven’t quite hit those numbers,” reported Gonzales, who said combined state and federal appropriations for fiscal year 2017 is $216 million — 54 percent of CERP’s promised funding. Some years, it’s been even less. NAS also is concerned about CERP’s underlying science, according to David Ashley, professor of engineering practice at the University of Southern California and chair of the Committee on Independent Scientific Review of Everglades Restoration Progress, which conducts NAS’ biennial review. In the 17 years since CERP’s inception, he said, scientists have learned that the Everglades ecosystem was historically much wetter than originally thought. They also have gained new insights about the potential impacts of sea level rise and climate change on the Everglades, neither of which was considered at CERP’s outset. This, plus the realization that some previously planned water-storage projects are no longer feasible — which creates a gap between the infrastructure the Everglades needs and the infrastructure CERP ultimately will deliver — means the Corps must re-evaluate its future plans and update the CERP scope of work, Ashley said.

“Everything that has been funded and started should continue, but now they should take a look at incorporating new issues into future planning,” he said. “We believe the system needs to be designed in a way that those issues do not take away from the long-term effectiveness of the restored ecosystem.” The Corps already does a good job of incorporating new science on individual CERP projects, NAS acknowledged in its report. What’s needed now — and what the Corps intends to deliver — is a programmatic update. “We’re definitely taking the recommendations from the NAS very seriously,” Gonzales said. “We’re starting to take those steps, and we’ll incorporate that assessment into the 2017 update of our integrated delivery schedule.”


Although he wishes CERP were advancing further and faster, Eikenberg said he’s encouraged by the pace of recent progress, including federal authorization last year of the Central Everglades Planning Project, which will remove a critical mass of dams and levees in order to restore natural sheet flow to the heart of the Everglades. According to the Corps, it’s one of nine CERP projects currently authorized by Congress to receive funding. “I’m optimistic,” Eikenberg said. “We’re going to see significant progress by the year 2025 and certainly by 2030.” Significant progress already is evident on at least two CERP projects

currently underway. The Picayune Strand Restoration Project was the first CERP project to begin construction in 2008. Scheduled for completion in 2020, it will restore more than 55,000 acres in southwest Florida with the aid of three pump stations that will re-hydrate dried-out wetlands. Once destined for residential development, the land instead will become prime habitat for the endangered Florida panther. The second project — the Indian River Lagoon-South Project, also scheduled for completion in 2020 — encompasses a 3,400-acre aboveground reservoir, a pump station and 6,300 acres of stormwater treatment areas that will work to restore wetlands east of Lake Okeechobee. “In the Picayune Strand area, in particular, there’s already been visible positive impact,” Ashley said. “They’ve filled in canals and changed the profile to more closely match its original state. As a result, they’re seeing the kind of sheet flow they predicted would occur and the return of natural vegetation. It’s very important evidence that the overall planning goals are feasible.” Clearly, there’s a way to restore the Everglades. All that’s needed now is the will — and the wherewithal — to do so, according to Eikenberg. “These are massive water infrastructure projects,” he concluded. “We’ve got to put our foot to the pedal now so we can see progress happen sooner rather than later.” Because later, he said, might be too late.



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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the Wankel T. rex and the Peck’s rex, far left. Both fossils have been on exhibit at the Museum of the Rockies in Montana, and the Wankel rex, bottom right, is expected to be on display at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., in 2019. CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: EILEEN L. WILLIAMSON/USACE (1, 3); F.T. EYRE

ENGINEERING ON EXHIBIT USACE puts work on display with support, maintenance of museums

By Scott Berman


HE U.S. ARMY CORPS of Engineers joins forces with museums and universities across the nation to curate and manage collections of fossils and other historic artifacts. The cooperative effort creates a historic puzzle as diverse — from a T. rex to a military towboat — as it is important. The Corps operates two museums, trains curators and, in 2012, led the construction

of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md., among other initiatives that are in line with USACE’s mission to “deliver vital public and military engineering services.” When it comes to the careful work of transporting the skeletal remains of a prehistoric dinosaur, who else would one call on other than USACE engineers, who partnered with the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Mont., and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural

History in Washington, D.C., on loans of two remarkably intact 65 million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex fossils which had been found on federal land? In 2014, the facilities worked with the Corps’ Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections (MCX-CMAC) on the precious cargo’s cross-country transfer to the Smithsonian, which is renovating a 31,000-square-foot CO N T I N U E D




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HISTORY HANDLERS These USACE employees embrace jobs that put them face-to-face with the distant past on a daily basis.

Kate Leese Archaeologist, St. Louis District USACE Most archaeologists dream of handling extremely rare remains of prehistoric animals, and Kate Leese is no exception. Although she didn’t discover the prehistoric creature herself, she worked closely with experts from two museums on a loan agreement and the process of transferring hundreds of pieces of the Wankel T. rex (named for its 1988 discoverers Kathy and Tom Wankel) to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Leese described the experience as “absolutely incredible. I never imagined I’d have the opportunity.”


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supports museums by managing the care and distribution of valuable artifacts; designing buildings such as the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Md.; and operating the Lower Mississippi River Museum, where visitors can tour the Mississippi IV towboat. space, scheduled to open in 2019, to feature the T. rex. “The work at the (MCX-CMAC), for example, is a social science extension of what the Corps has always done, and that is to meet changing needs in order to serve the nation,” said the center’s director, Michael “Sonny” Trimble. USACE’s National Great Rivers Museum near St. Louis attracts tens of thousands of people from around the world each year, said recreation manager Kimberly Rea. It serves as a visitors center, offers exhibits on local history and nature and partners with schools, the Missouri History Museum and the St. Louis Science Center to increase awareness and understanding of issues affecting the great rivers. The Lower Mississippi River Museum in Vicksburg, Miss., and its volunteers focus on the river’s rich history and great importance. A major draw for visitors is the decommissioned Corps towboat Mississippi IV, which offers interactive exhibits, tours and staged areas that re-create the vessel’s original ambience on every

deck, said Kathy Mabry, a USACE park ranger. Trimble also is working with 165 universities and museums nationwide to assess historical materials and fossils uncovered during past Corps projects. In a move aimed at providing the vast number of curators necessary to complete that work, USACE created the Veterans Curation Program, in which veterans employed by two contracting firms are trained to “process at-risk archaeological collections” sent to three Corps laboratories. In Augusta, Ga., Army veteran Brittany Watts has processed artifacts such as archival maps. She said it’s fascinating work that creates career options while “helping transition people from military to civilian life.” Trimble said a key goal is to establish regional curation centers and to display all objects online. It’s part of an effort to make objects accessible for all Americans, including researchers, far into the future. The reason is clear: As Trimble added, “You never know what kind of discovery you are going to make.”

Robert Williams Project manager, Baltimore District USACE In 2010, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862, was in need of a makeover, and Robert Williams led the project. “We went outside the box with this one,” Williams said of the new U.S. Department of Defense building, which opened in 2012, timed to the museum’s 150th anniversary. Along with architects and contractors, he created a 20,000-square-foot museum with a design that Williams said resembles “the angle of an autopsy cut.” The facility houses 24.6 million objects. Caleb O’Hering U.S. Marine Corps veteran and archaeological laboratory technician, Veterans Curation Program (VCP), Alexandria, Va. Caleb O’Hering calls his work “literally putting your hands on history,” referring to objects in USACE collections. He came to the VCP after his service as a Marine ended in 2014. Lab techs, employed by outside environmental and cultural consulting firms, measure, label and photograph the objects that arrive in the Virginia laboratory. The items consist of “almost everything,” he said. “But there’s a surprise or two in every collection,” with standouts including Civil War-era objects and handmade tools. O’Hering said his VCP experience “is like nothing I’ve ever done before.” — Scott Berman ASHER LEFF/USACE; SARAH GROSS/USACE; GUILLIAM HURTE/USACE





RECREATION Every Kid in a Parkrelated grants assist the Dan River Basin Association in southwestern Virginia with its programs for young nature lovers.



Program puts kids in parks to increase interest in natural resources

By Regina Bediako


HIS ISN’T A TYPICAL elementary school classroom. Instead of standard fluorescent lights, a misty morning sun peeks through a thick canopy of trees. Damp grass and branches of Salix nigra, or black willow, in jars replace wide-ruled paper and No. 2 pencils. And with the singsong trill of nearby barn swallows, a class led

by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) park ranger Dan LaPrad on the shoreline of Philpott Lake in Bassett, Va., begins. LaPrad is just one of hundreds of team members on the front lines of a wide-ranging federal interagency effort to jumpstart and nurture children’s relationship with the outdoors. In partnership with six other federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service and the National Oceanic and

Atmospheric Administration, the Corps supports a program aptly named Every Kid in a Park (EKIP). With a focus on fourthgrade students, the goal is just as the name suggests: to increase engagement between the youngsters and more than 2,000 federally managed parks, lakes and other spaces throughout the country. Why fourth-graders? The program’s CO N T I N U E D










Abraham Lincoln impersonator Fritz Klein entertains students during the Lincoln’s Journey Home event in Indianapolis, in 2015, part of an Every Kid in a Park program.

architects contend children in the 9- to 11-year-old age group can reap the maximum benefits. They are old enough to engage deeply with the educational material, but still have an all-important sense of wonder and excitement. “It’s important for our continued conservation efforts,” said Roseana Burick, a natural resources specialist with the Corps who was a national coordinator for EKIP when it began in September 2015. “These kids are our next stewards of federal lands. If they’re not participating young, then we’re not going to be able to get them interested.” Nearly 250 Corps sites participate in EKIP, offering access to lakes, rivers, dams and the vast recreation areas around them. At a Corps lake or river, children are exposed to valuable STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons on topics such as flood control, wildlife conservation and water supply management.


After completing an educational activity on the EKIP website (everykidinapark. gov), fourth-graders can print passes that will give them and up to three adults free access for a year, from September through August, to storied federal sites such as Yellowstone National Park and the Hoover Dam, as well as those that may be just a city bus ride away. Some state-managed sites also honor the passes. Children under 16 are already admitted free to many of these spaces, but by extending that to guardians, program administrators are removing a potential hurdle for lower-income families for whom the cost of a park visit can be prohibitive. Through EKIP, created by President Barack Obama, agencies and educators can also tap resources to overcome financial barriers that may have traditionally kept students from participating in outdoor learning opportunities. The Corps “can

submit a proposal to the National Park Foundation to partner with a local school district to actually help pay for busing,” Burick said. The foundation, the official philanthropic partner of the federal parks system, planned to dole out $2.4 million during the 2016-17 school year to help underserved schools and their fourth-graders take advantage of the program. People can’t seem to get enough of EKIP: Two million passes were downloaded and 7,000 students and their families visited Corps sites in the program’s first year.

SUPERCHARGING LOCAL EDUCATION Before EKIP began, LaPrad had for three years run an educational outreach program with the local Dan River Basin Association (DRBA) called Streamside


“Kids need to move, and they need to be active. And putting them behind desks for six hours a day is not optimal, so if you can get the learning from outdoors, that’s terrific.” — David Berliner, regents professor emeritus of education at Arizona State University



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RECREATION Trees in the Classroom. LaPrad and his DRBA counterpart, Krista Hodges, coordinated with local elementary schools, helping the kids to propagate branches of Salix nigra over the course of four weeks. The project culminated in a Planting Day celebration, during which LaPrad taught students how the new trees would fight erosion and stabilize the bank of Philpott Lake. “We were only doing about 300 students a year,” LaPrad recalled of their early efforts. But with the EKIP-related transportation grants, they were able to nearly triple that number, expanding into neighboring counties and planting in sites beyond Philpott Lake. “During the 20152016 school year, we had 825 students in 19 schools participate,” LaPrad said. The program is a hit, as evidenced by children who often share their enthusiasm with LaPrad. One night, while dining with his wife, LaPrad noticed a little girl staring at them. She walked over and started talking excitedly about the trees she and her class were growing. “She told me, ‘We can’t wait to get out there and plant them!’” he said, laughing. “I get that all the time.” Henry County, one of the localities in LaPrad’s jurisdiction, has been hit hard in recent years as much of the area’s furniture industry has fallen to international competition. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s median household income is a little more than half that of the average Virginia resident. The funding from EKIP makes a huge difference, said Maryann Mitzel, a teacher at Dudley Elementary School in Wirtz, Va., whose fourth-grade students have worked with LaPrad. “A lot of the kids at our schools do have financial constraints,” she said. Visiting a (national) park “might be something otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford.”


Children can explore waterways and landscapes or just stop and smell the flowers as part of the Every Kid in a Park initiative.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of EKIP programs, according to administrators, is how outdoor learning blends well with providing students a deeply rooted STEM foundation. “Streamside Trees aligns perfectly with our curriculum,” Mitzel said. “It fits in in a very hands-on way instead of just from a textbook.” Without this approach, “the knowledge wouldn’t be as deep and wouldn’t stick as much. When they experience the science, they get true learning that is lasting.” The research seems to support Mitzel’s assessment. A 2005 study of 255 California sixth-graders who attended a weeklong outdoor science camp found that the students’ science

scores jumped 27 percent. More recently, researchers following a group of 289 German fourth- and fifth-graders on a weeklong conservation course observed that the activities “fostered cognitive achievement.” “It’s almost commonsensical,” said David Berliner, regents professor emeritus of education at Arizona State University. “Kids need to move, and they need to be active. And putting them behind desks for six hours a day is not optimal, so if you can get the learning from outdoors, that’s terrific.” But the lessons STEM can impart to




students go beyond test scores, Mitzel said. “Some of their trees didn’t turn out perfectly, but that allows for a conversation,” she explained. “It allows for kids to experience failure and to persevere. From that comes knowledge.” EKIP is in the second of a five-year agreement with the federal agencies, but participants hope the program is here to stay. LaPrad, for example, is ready to do more. “We’re federal government employees,” he said. “If we can, we should give these opportunities to everybody. If it was me, I’d travel all over the country doing this.”



SEASON 2 Immerse yourself





Kingsolver Elementary at Fort Knox, Ky., is a new Department of Defense Education Activity school built to bring STEM to life for students. PROVIDED BY USACE LOUISVILLE DISTRICT

LEARNING BY DESIGN STEM-inspired USACE schools replace traditional classrooms

By Patricia Kime


DOZEN SECOND-GRADERS AT Crossroads Elementary School in Quantico, Va., huddle around a chunky plastic Bee-Bot, cheering it along a path programmed by a classmate. Computer coding and robotics may seem like advanced concepts for the grade level, but at this school, which was designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the STEM curriculum touches every age.

“We really challenged the architects and the engineers to design every single square foot of the building as an educational opportunity,” said Jansen Moon, facilities branch architect with the Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) agency. USACE has collaborated with DODEA on school design for years, but when Congress allotted $3.7 billion to the latter in 2009 to renovate or replace 70 percent of its 194 schools, the department looked to the Corps.

For USACE, this meant the chance to build schools that support its commitment to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. “We have ‘engineers’ in our name, and we are trying to focus on STEM any way we can,” explained Steve Skaggs, project engineer with USACE’s Louisville District, which oversees construction of schools in its jurisdiction. “Anything we can do to reach out to students and inspire them to CO N T I N U E D







The Barkley Elementary School building at Fort Campbell, Ky., helps reinforce STEM principles and ideas. Wiring and piping in ceilings remain exposed, so students can get a look at how lighting and ductwork distribute resources throughout the school. become the next generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians, we want to do that.” The 21st Century Learning model used by the schools is rooted in the philosophy that children learn best by focusing on projects and working at their own pace. In adopting the 21st Century concept, Defense Department officials asked how facilities could help equip children with the capabilities, knowledge and skills they will need to be productive in the computer-driven, automated future. DODEA decided the facilities’ designs should be flexible enough to meet every student’s needs. The idea was to build schools that met Defense Department energy-efficiency goals and qualified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification while providing flexible, adaptable spaces that promote studentcentered learning and serve as instructional aids in reinforcing STEM curricula. Instead of students going to a designated science or STEM room, class spaces are grouped around a central hub or sections, called neighborhoods, said Moon. “It’s right in front of them. It goes far in promoting curiosity,” he added. To develop the designs for the new or rebuilt elementary, middle and high schools, USACE created a DODEA Design Center at its Norfolk District in Virginia, that would develop the facility specifications and communicate them to the schools’ construction engineers, including

Naval Facilities Engineering Command on domestic Navy and Marine Corps bases, USACE on domestic Army bases, the Air Force for some air bases and various private construction firms for overseas schools. “We maintain an active role throughout the lifetime of the project. From cradle to grave, we are active participants,” said Thomas Booth, program manager for the USACE DODEA Design Center. Construction is wrapping up at of one of the newest facilities, the $32.7 million Kingsolver Elementary School at Fort Knox, Ky., with students expected to enter in the fall of 2017. Among the features they’ll see when they walk through the doors are energy dashboards that display each grade level’s energy and water use, tubular light wells that bring in natural light through the roof, a dozen solar panels to heat the school’s water. Outside there’s retention ponds, rain barrels and a rooftop garden. “It makes you wish you could go back and be a student again, the way these schools are so adaptable,” said Skaggs, discussing the facilities’ most significant design feature — open floor plans with each grade level grouped in neighborhoods. “You can have all four classes working together on a project, and it’s easy to move around. It serves the learning styles of all students.” DODEA scheduled 81 construction projects, including school additions, renovations and replacements, from 2009 through

2018. To date, six new schools meeting 21st Century standards have opened, including the first, Kimberly Hampton Primary School at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 2014. Nine more, including a high school at Yokota Air Base, Japan, are expected to open this year. The schools definitely feel different from the “old bells and cells,” said Crossroads Elementary Principal Kathy Downs, referring to the classroom and hallway layout of traditional schools. Walk into any neighborhood at her school of more than 700 students, and you may be overwhelmed with what looks like chaos: One group sits quietly at computers, but other youngsters are noisily building LEGO structures nearby. Another group of children are hunched over journals, writing about their latest CO N T I N U E D







Crossroads Elementary School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, fifth-graders Jaden Gibson and Georgia Nordberg practice filming the morning announcements in the school’s television studio, assisted by teacher Mark Robinson. previous school at Camp project — growing mung Lejeune, N.C., she travbeans — while others are “It makes you eled down long hallways kneeling and wiggling to change classes. Now, around on the floor wish you could her teachers — and playing a synonym card go back and be a fellow students — move game. around within their It’s difficult to figure student again, the fifth-grade neighborout who belongs to way these schools hood. “I like how we do which class. But that things together, even 75 is by design, Downs are so adaptable.” kids on a carpet, working said. “Here, things are — Steve Skaggs, well together, focusing open and when you USACE project engineer on a Smart Board.” walk around, you won’t Third-grader Peyton be able to tell what’s Lutz, 8, agrees: “We a regular classroom, have to collaborate. I like a (special education) it. Sometimes I get distracted, maybe if classroom … or even what levels everyone I’m working on really hard math or social is working at. The kids flow in and out.” studies, but not usually.” Like other USACE-designed 21st Century While all the schools must meet DODEA schools, Crossroads has energy dashboards 21st Century standards, this doesn’t and a rooftop garden, which the thirdmean their design is static. At Barkley grade students plan to use to attract butElementary School at Fort Campbell, Ky., terflies this year, part of their studies of the engineers examined the site and decided to life cycle and butterfly migration. There’s alter the construction methods with a goal also a wind turbine, solar panels and a of a school that would achieve net-zero cistern to collect rainwater. Its television energy use. And all the schools will be studio is equipped with state-of-the-art getting new energy dashboards that are electronics, including a green screen. easier to use and connected across the Londyn Tipton, 11, said that at her

DODEA system so students can learn about energy needs and usage worldwide, Moon said. “It’s going to be a fantastic resource … It’s going to be very exciting, not only from the education standpoint but for energy management at the headquarters level.” Already, these 21st Century schools are winning awards. The biannual publication Learning by Design in 2013 awarded a Citation of Excellence to SchenkelShultz Architecture for its design of Kaiserslautern High School in Germany. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education named three schools, including Kimberly Hampton, as Green Ribbon schools for their efforts in reducing environmental impact and utility costs and promoting sustainability. USACE Design Center officials continually incorporate feedback from existing schools into designs underway for newer facilities. They said the feedback they’ve gotten suggests they are on the right track. “The thing we’ve heard the most is not only are these beautiful buildings, but there is collaborative learning going on,” said Melody Will, lead architect for the USACE DODEA Design Center. “They didn’t realize how much the (old) buildings were in the way.”






PLANTING STEM SEEDS Driving students toward careers in engineering

High school students enrolled in a summer STEM program at Tennessee State University learn about dams. MARK RANKIN/USACE

By Brian Barth


ENNESE HENDERSON, AN ELECTRICAL engineer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District Hydropower Branch, recently received a validating call from a young scientist she helped introduce to STEM through the National Summer Transportation Institute program. USACE has partnered with NSTI, an initiative of the Federal Highway Administration’s Civil Rights Office, bringing high school students to college campuses to promote careers in the transportation industry and in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Henderson has supported the NSTI program at Tennessee State University (TSU) in Nashville since the inaugural class 21 years ago, and now leads a USACE team that provides instruction and encouragement to the students each summer. If Henderson ever questioned whether

“A lot of kids are frightened by the term ‘engineering,’ so it’s important to introduce them when they are young to the possibilities of the field. They are our future.” — Tennese Henderson, USACE electrical engineer

the program actually inspires its participants to continue STEM studies, that phone call was her answer. “One young lady who was in the program three years ago and is now in college just called me the other day because she is taking a course in circuits and had a question. So I showed her a little trick. Later she sent me an email to tell me, ‘Hey, your trick worked. I got an A on my test.’ That made my day,” said Henderson. More than 8,000 high school students have participated in the program. The

students receive between two and four weeks of STEM education at partnering colleges and universities. Sixty-five schools have hosted NSTI programs since the initiative was launched in 1991. The annual program at TSU is notable for being an early adopter of the NSTI model, but also for its emphasis on water-based transportation, a part of the curriculum that has long been supported by USACE. TSU is also the sixth largest HBCU (historically black CO N T I N U E D







USACE engineers help expose high school students to careers in STEM by taking them to locations, such as the Old Hickory Lock and Dam in Nashville, top, during the weeks-long National Summer Transportation Institute program on the campus of Tennessee State University. colleges and universities) in the country, adding significance to its outreach. Numerous studies in recent years have found that many minority students face more socioeconomic and educational challenges than their counterparts, often making their STEM success more difficult. White men and women make up 73 percent of scientists and engineers in the United States, with white men accounting for 55 percent of that 73 percent, despite comprising 31 percent of the population. Data from onlineuniversities.com shows that minority students express just as much interest in STEM-related degree programs and occupations as others, yet African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans account for just 12 percent of undergraduate engineering degrees,

despite representing 34 percent of the population. At the graduate level, just 7 percent of all master’s students and 3 percent of doctoral students in engineering are minorities. TSU has a major emphasis on STEM education. The engineering department accounts for about 1,000 of the school’s 9,000 students, said Keith Hargrove, dean of TSU’s College of Engineering. The NSTI program welcomes roughly 20 high school students to TSU’s campus for immersion in the field of transportation engineering each year. Hargrove is always pleasantly surprised at how the eyes of these rising 10th- and 11th-graders light up once they are exposed to the vital realworld problems that today’s transportation engineers face.

“We take them on field trips all over the city — the airport, a railway system, a cargo barge, a lock and dam — to help them understand how important transportation is to our daily lives,” said Hargrove, noting that the annual field trip to Nashville’s Old Hickory Lock and Dam is always a hit. Seeing the turbines and gears close-up with the USACE lockmaster gives students a real feel for the importance of waterways to the local and national economy, he said. For Henderson, supporting aspiring STEM students at the university each summer is one of the joys of her job. “A lot of kids are frightened by the term ‘engineering,’ so it’s important to introduce them when they are young to the possibilities of the field,” said Henderson. “They are our future.”



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Once included on the list of endangered species, bald eagles, America’s national bird, continue to be closely monitored as preservation efforts have helped increase their population.

BIRD WATCHERS USACE helps keep an eye on America’s eagles

By Adrienne Jordan


ODAY, IT’S NOT UNCOMMON to spot a majestic bald eagle perched in a tall tree over the waters of the Beaver Lake reservoir in Arkansas. However, this wasn’t always so. In 1940, eagles were “threatened with extinction,” according to Congress, which passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act that year. Soon after, it was found that pesticides like DDT caused sterility and weakened egg shells that would prematurely break. As a result, the eagle population — estimated at more than 100,000 in 1782 when the bird was declared the nation’s symbol — was down to fewer than 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states by 1963. To help save them, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a cancellation order for DDT in the U.S. in 1972, and six years later, the bird was officially added to the list of endangered species.

For decades, the federal government has conducted surveys to keep count of bald eagles. Since 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center have partnered annually to monitor changes and ensure the population stays strong. USACE Park Ranger Donna Bryant, along with colleagues and volunteers nationwide, observes and counts the majestic birds each January. Typically, bald eagles migrate south into Arkansas beginning in late October and early November. As northern waters begin to freeze, they work their way south, in search of open waters full of fish and waterfowl. “I have been doing the survey since 2010 at Beaver Lake, and I am always amazed at the sight of a massive number of eagles flying at you from the back of a cove,” said Bryant, who has seen as many as 260 eagles in a day.

The team uses two boats For six years at Beaver and covers around 450 miles Lake, Bryant, who’s since IN 2017, of shoreline. The aim is to relocated to Oregon, was complete the task in one day, in charge of the bald eagle BEAVER LAKE which limits the chances of program. She organized RANGERS counting a migrating eagle the annual survey and sent OBSERVED more than once. the data to the U.S. Fish and Since the start of the Wildlife Service. She also annual surveys, rangers have kept track of the nest sites seen a gradual increase in to ensure no new dock or numbers. In 1982, eagleland use permits were issued watch participants spotted in these areas. This helped 23 bald eagles on Beaver limit the amount of human Lake, all of which were activity near the sites. BALD EAGLES migratory; in 2017, park “During the winter rangers observed more than months — the time the 100. eagles migrate to Arkansas Environmental policies — we have a two-week and protections have allowed bald eagle timeline in which to complete these populations to bounce back. According to surveys,” said Landon Thurman, a Beaver conservation group Defenders of the Wild, Lake park ranger. “We organize a team of today there are more than 5,000 pairs in approximately six rangers, break them into the lower 48 states. two teams to complete visual counts.”




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Submit your photo at sharetheexperience.org for a chance to win.

PICTURE PERFECT Photograph USACE parks for a chance to win big By Tracy Scott Forson


ACH YEAR, THE DEPARTMENT of the Interior invites those with a penchant for photography and a love of nature to enter its Share the Experience photo contest. Explorers who visit the lands run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other public-land agencies can submit their favorite photos, and winners are chosen in several categories. The grand-prize winner receives $10,000. In 2016, John Slezak snagged one of six honorable mention prizes with this snapshot of his little brother fishing at sunset at the Army Corps-run Oologah Lake in Oklahoma. The lake provides a great getaway for fishing, boating, picnicking, camping and family fun. Despite arriving at the lake later in the day than they would have liked, Slezak said, “All in all, it was an evening well spent with family.�






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