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BUILDING POWER Partnerships help drive the future

STEM PROGRAMS Outreach grows workforce of tomorrow

HYDROPOWER BOOST Chief Joseph Dam pumping more energy muscle

TOUCHING HISTORY Bringing closure to families of POW/MIAs









Specialized sites contribute to USACE successes by providing support and creating research tools




FINAL SALUTE Q&A with Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick on his legacy leading the Corps


LOOKING BACK USACE’s lesserknown but still important historical efforts


PROFILE Managing the Mississippi Valley Division with a personal touch


POWER PRODUCER Chief Joseph Dam gets some muchneeded upgrades


LOOKING AHEAD The Olmsted Locks and Dam project in Olmsted, Ill., aims to improve commercial navigation to and from cities





WORKING TOGETHER Interagency cooperation is helping to shape the future by tackling massive projects


MISSION RECOVERY Archaeologists work together with other agencies to help locate POWs/MIAs in Southeast Asia





This is a product of


Jeanette Barrett-Stokes CREATIVE DIRECTOR


Michelle Washington



Chris Garsson Elizabeth Neus Hannah Prince Lori Santos Sara Schwartz Tracy L. Scott DESIGNERS

Ashleigh Carter Miranda Pellicano Gina Toole Saunders Lisa M. Zilka CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Brian Barth, Mary Helen Berg, Mary Beth Griggs, Adam Hadhazy, Rachel Kaufman, Seth Porges, Adam Stone, Hannah Waters, Stephanie Anderson Witmer ADVERTISING VP, ADVERTISING

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Justine Goodwin | (703) 854-5444 ISSN#0734-7456 A USA TODAY publication, Gannett Co. Inc. USA TODAY, its logo and associated graphics are the trademarks of Gannett Co. Inc. or its affiliates. All rights reserved. Copyright 2016, 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 e-mail to





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EDUCATION HAVING FUN WITH STEM There’s more than one way to get kids interested in USACE careers

ENVIRONMENT FOILING AN ‘EAGLE KILLER’ Battling back blue-green algae in a delicate ecosystem RISING TO THE CHALLENGE California’s extreme weather of flooding and drought poses special concerns, requires a careful balance

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CAREERS PERFECT FIT Professionals combine passion and dedication in service to the nation

RECREATION HELPING HANDS Volunteers roll up their sleeves to keep USACE recreation sites running

BACK PAGE COOL TOOLS A nimble UAV provides valuable imagery in the Huntington District

ON THE COVER Multiple agencies and the USACE build the Folsom Dam auxiliary spillway project in Folsom, Calif. PHOTO: TODD PLAIN/U.S. ARMY







Outgoing commander Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick was honored May 19 during an Armed Forces Full Honors retirement ceremony.

1978 Graduated U.S. Military Academy at West Point, BS 1985 Graduated Stanford University, MS in both civil and mechanical Engineering 1989-90 White House Fellow, special assistant to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs 1997 Graduated U.S. Army War College 1997-1999 Commander, Engineer Brigade, 1st Armored Division, Operation Joint Force, Bosnia-Herzegovina 2001-2002 Executive Officer to the Chief of Engineers and Army Chief of Staff, Deputy Director of Operations for the National Military Command Center, the Joint Staff in the Pentagon 2004-2005 Assistant Division Commander (Support), 1st Cavalry Division and USACE Commander Gulf Region Division, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Kuwait 2005 Bronze Star



Outgoing Army Corps chief touts the people and purpose driving agency’s mission By Mary Helen Berg

2012 Appointed 53rd U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the Army Corps of Engineers — Michael Casagrande

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick retired as the 53rd U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and commander of the Army Corps of Engineers on May 19, ending 38 years of service. The U.S. Senate confirmed Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite in April as Bostick’s successor. In his interview with USA TODAY, Bostick reflects on his four-year tenure and shares his thoughts on the future of the Corps.





What are the three accomplishments that make you most proud? BOSTICK: I want to say how proud I am of all of the accomplishments achieved by the Corps during my tenure. People are vital to our organization. For us, mission success depends on our people. In terms of accomplishments, probably the most notable ... (are) our efforts in support of a whole-of-government approach to (the 2012) Superstorm Sandy. ... The hurricane recovery effort is a great example of our work to reduce (disaster) risk. USACE has executed $1.5 billion of more than $5 billion in construction intended to reduce flood risk in areas affected (and) ... recovery work is progressing on schedule. In addition, the Corps of Engineers completed the North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study ... in January 2015, (identifying) regional and national opportunities to increase coastal resilience and reduce vulnerability. ... In an era of decreasing resources, we must (also) look to alternative methods of resourcing our projects. One way we do that is by engaging in public-private partnerships, or P3, in order to leverage resources from many organizations. ... For example, the St. Paul District’s FargoMoorhead Diversion project — the first project authorized under P3 — includes a non-federal sponsor who will construct the 30-mile diversion channel while the Corps constructs the dam. ... (And) we increased our efforts to assist Wounded Warriors ... now transitioning to civilian life. In the past three and a half years, we have helped more than 700 (in the Wounded Warriors Project) develop new skills and find employment. … Our Veteran Curation Program hires veterans for up to five months, providing training (to) improve veteran access to the mainstream job market. You’ve said the country’s traditional approach to managing its aging water infrastructure is unsustainable. What changes need to be made? The challenge we face on the inland waterways aging infrastructure issues (is) that in order to finish the projects that we are currently funding in the Corps of Engineers — to finish just those, not the ones we are currently not funding in the backlog — we would need $19.7 billion, but we receive about $1 billion in construction per year. Generally speaking, we fund projects on a year-by-year basis. ... (And) we’re taking almost 20 years to finish these projects and that’s just too long and too expensive. Congress isn’t going to give us $19 billion — and we shouldn’t expect that from the American taxpayers. ... I am seeing some bright spots in this

premature to say whether or not we will get a better grade, but I can say we are developing processes and partnerships that work toward achieving greater results. Do you foresee a shift in priorities as the Corps tackles new challenges in funding, climate change, resilience and security? The nature of our challenges may change slightly as we adapt to uncertainty and a changing environment, but I think the core pillars of our strategy remain the same — support national security, transform civil works, reduce disaster risks and prepare for tomorrow. ... It is unlikely we will have a shift in priorities, but ... we are developing new methods, such as public-private partnership alternative financing, to meet existing requirements, as well as watershed-informed budgeting. JENNIFER ALDRIDGE/USACE

Bostick credits cooperation between agencies for the Corps’ successes.

area and I think we are leaning toward a future in which response times are much improved. … One specific method ... is to de-authorize excess projects. While they may have been a top priority when they were authorized, sometimes conditions and environments change, requiring us to reprioritize existing resources. Restoration of the Everglades is an example of a project that required cooperation between agencies. What role will interagency partnerships play in future Corps operations? Everything we do, whether it’s military missions and civil works, is a part of a collaborative effort. ... We rely on the combined experience of interagency cooperation with partners such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Energy to ensure the highest quality engineering and construction projects. ... A recent example is our work with the Bureau of Reclamation in excavating the spillway and associated areas at the Folsom Dam ... in Sacramento, Calif. By collaborating with our partners, we are not only saving the taxpayer money, but also are reducing the flood risk for Sacramento much quicker than would have been possible working independently. The last report card on U.S. infrastructure from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) awarded a D+ overall and estimated $3.6 trillion in repairs are needed by 2020 to upgrade parks, levees, bridges and other systems. Can the Corps expect better grades? The report card is an important metric of our ability to sustain or improve the aging infrastructure and we appreciate the thoroughness of the findings and recommendations from ASCE. It would be

Is there anything you would have done differently? Is there something left unfinished? Resourcing our efforts will never be a job that is finished, but I think we have some room to grow in this area, so there is still work to be done. In addition to our traditional approach to partnerships, we also are considering other approaches, such as expanding use of existing authorities. In some cases, non-federal sponsors have expressed interest in contributing funds to enable work to occur more quickly than it could with just federal funds. We’ve

made significant gains in the past two years in mining the potential of alternative financing. What parting message do you have for the men and women of USACE and the country? We have the brightest and most capable minds doing extraordinary work — mission success is not possible without our people. To those people I would say: what you do, day after day, makes a significant impact. ... Together we will continue to engineer solutions for the nation’s toughest challenges. To the American public — our friends and neighbors, I want to say we will continue to offer our best service to you. We fully understand the importance of the American people’s voice in defining our missions. Your voice guides the members of Congress who authorize and appropriate the projects that we undertake. What is the best piece of advice you can offer your successor, Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite? We have a very strong campaign plan with clear objectives. Continue to develop the campaign plan and bridge toward 2025. Stay aligned with the Army and our military. Find common ground within the interagency, OMB and the Congress. Focus on developing the talent of our people. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.


Bostick tours an area hard-hit by Superstorm Sandy in March 2013. He touted the recovery efforts as a “great example” of the Corps’ work to reduce disaster risk after storms.





Civil engineer manages historic waterway with a personal touch By Adam Stone

evacuated. We engage with congressional representatives, nonprofit agencies, S COMMANDER OF THE U.S. Army recreational interests.” Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi In addition, as president of the Mississippi Valley Division (MVD) since AuRiver Commission (MRC), a job he received gust 2014, Maj. Gen. Michael C. through presidential appointment, Wehr Wehr labors to master the river’s and his MRC colleagues take a trip twice a farms, floods and fishers, its bridges, dams year down the river, holding open meetings and levees. And he is mindful of the work of with locals. Colleagues say this approach is those who came before and ever cognizant in keeping with Wehr’s character. of the future. “Now we have bridges falling “He gets down to a human level,” said down, we have locks crumbling, and all of Peter Nimrod, chief engineer of the Misthat is an opportunity,” he said. “I believe sissippi Levee Board, which partners with the nation will invest, and rightly so. I USACE to manage some 212 miles of levee believe the second wave systems in Mississippi. of engineering is coming.” “He is always interested In helping to lead that in you, interested in your “(Wehr) gets next wave, Wehr shoulprojects, willing to work down to a human ders an incredibly broad with you in any way he range of responsibilities can. He wants to know level. He is always in a 370,000-square-mile about the people in the area. The territory area — what drives them, interested in you extends from Canada to what is their form of ... your projects, the Gulf of Mexico, and occupation, what they encompasses portions like to do — because he willing to work of 12 states. His division wants to understand with you in any keeps the Mississippi how a project can help a river navigable, reduces certain area.” way he can.” flood risk, protects the Wehr traveled a — Peter Nimrod, chief natural environment and long road on the way engineer of the prepares for emergency to his present job. A Mississippi Levee Board situations. His $1 billion Sacramento native, he budget helps implement served in San Francisco, lessons learned from Hawaii, Fort Bragg, N.C., 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, while addressing and most recently in Afghanistan as director invasive Asian carp in the Illinois River. of the Joint Engineering Directorate of the Right now, his team is battling back sediUnited States Forces-Afghanistan, acting ment washed loose in the winter floods of as the principal engineering adviser to the 2015-16. It’s a cat-and-mouse game along theater commander. 90 miles of river from the Gulf of Mexico Ultimately, Wehr describes his work as to New Orleans in the area known as the an extension of his patriotic duties. Southwest Pass. Tides push the sediment as “Forty-one percent of the nation drains fast as the Corps can dredge, with countless into the Mississippi, and that creates a kind dollars of ocean-bound shipping on the line. of interdependence. There are all these Wehr brings all the pieces together communities that have a life along that through a firm commitment to teamwork. river, and they contribute to our nation’s “A lot of issues ... require a lot of greatness,” he said. “Navigation drives an partners,” he said. “We might work with economic engine, and it also is part of a a levy district to make sure people can be way of life that is worth defending.”



MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL C. WEHR uEDUCATION: University of Santa Clara, graduated in 1985. Master’s in civil engineering, the University of Texas at Austin.

uAGE: 53 uFAMILY: Married to his college sweetheart. Two children, a daughter and a son.

uAWARDS AND DECORATIONS: Include two Bronze Stars, two Legions of Merit and a Defense Superior Service Medal.






CORE PROJECTS USACE has played an integral role in constructing historical landmarks By Lori Santos


HE U.S. ARMY CORPS of Engineers has been at it since March 16, 1802 — building coastal fortifications, surveying roads and canals, eliminating navigational hazards, exploring and mapping the Western frontier and constructing buildings and monuments in the nation’s capital. Here are a few examples of their lesser-known but still important historical efforts.


In 1986, Life magazine designated the 265-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 50 in central Nevada between Ely and Fernley as “The Loneliest Road in America.” The article quoted a spokesman from the then American Automobile Association as saying: “It’s totally empty. There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it.” This stretch originated as part of a wagon road through the Great Basin laid out by Capt. James Hervey Simpson of the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. Simpson was certain that a shorter route through the Great Basin to California was possible. And he found it. In the 1920s it became part of U.S. 50 in the nation’s new federal highway system.



USACE removes shipwrecks that menace navigation. In August 1974, the 715-foot passenger ship Caribia sank in a storm. Built in Scotland, it made its inaugural voyage in 1949 as the Cunard White Star Line’s Caronia, a state-of-theart luxury cruise ship well known for its striking four shades of green. In 1967, it was sold, refitted and renamed the Caribia. After a disastrous mechanical failure followed by years at anchor in New York, it was sold for scrap. While being towed to Taiwan, the ship sank during a storm, partially blocking the entrance to Guam’s only deep-draft harbor. Removal of the 34,000-ton ship, in about 400-ton sections, took two years. It was the largest salvage operation by the Corps, which was given the Caribia’s compass, at far right.









Army engineers played a key role in the Civil War, building a multifort ring of defenses around the capital. USACE has compiled an extensive accounting online, including the “Defenses of Washington” forts and the ring road connecting them that both protected the capital from the adjacent Confederate states and let the Union free up forces for offensive campaigns. From 1861-1865, engineers completed 68 forts, all within a 37-mile perimeter, never penetrated by Confederate troops. Throughout the war, about 15 engineer officers were employed in Washington’s defenses at any given time. U.S. ARMY ENGINEER MUSEUM


While exploring and surveying the American West in the 19th century, Army engineers and topographers amassed a wealth of scientific information, including astronomical observations made by engineer officers training at New York’s Willets Point in the 1870s and 1880s. The engineers conducted the bulk of their studies from an observatory built on the post in 1868. Officers calculated longitude and latitude using the sun, moon, stars and planets, and observed unusual phenomena, such as aurora borealis, beginning in 1870 through 1884. The auroral statistics collected at Willets Point (today called Fort Totten in Queens) are the earliest available and are still useful to scientists studying the recurrence of the aurora borealis and its relationship to sunspot activity.




When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated Nov. 22, 1963, the Corps was given the last-minute critical tasks of locating his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery and designing and constructing the eternal flame that would mark it. The flame had to be installed and functioning in time for the funeral. Because engineers couldn’t install a permanent natural gas line on time, they opted for propane gas and a kind of Tiki torch typically used at outdoor parties. Thirty hours later, they had the flame up and running, and after the funeral service and burial, millions watched on television as Jacqueline Kennedy lit the lamp with a burning candle. The creation lasted for more than a year before a new gravesite was selected in 1965 and completed in 1967 to accommodate the large crowds that visited.


In 1868, the Corps was given the job of rebuilding the near-useless, 70-year-old lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, N.C., along the stretch of the East Coast known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because hundreds of ships foundered on the treacherous shallows and sank. The new Cape Hatteras lighthouse was the tallest in the world when completed two years later at a cost of $167,000. Located only 600 feet from the old structure but standing 72 feet taller (184 feet above sea level), the beacon was outfitted with a state-of-the-art Fresnel lens and could be seen for about 22 miles at sea.


When undertaking the task of providing pure drinking water in Washington, D.C., the Corps started by getting it to the president and first family. In 1824, Army engineers piped water from a spring on K Street to supply the White House, which had depended on shallow wells. Engineer work then expanded to the rest of the capital; the 1840s saw the first sanitary sewer in Washington, on 15th Street, and then the Washington Aqueduct — the foundation of the city’s water system, most of it still functioning today. The Corps’ work helped eventually eradicate typhoid and cholera.

—Compiled from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Office of History historical vignettes








POWER PRODUCER After much-needed upgrades, the Chief Joseph Dam will keep the lights on for decades to come


TRETCHING A THIRD OF a mile across the Columbia River in Washington state, the Chief Joseph Dam is the largest hydropower producing dam operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the second-largest hydropower dam in the country. Working at full capacity, it can independently produce enough electricity to power all of Seattle, though the energy generated here powers homes and businesses across the Northwest.

By Mary Beth Griggs That’s impressive for a dam that began its life back in the 1950s, when power demands were much lower than they are today. The waters of the Columbia River — fed by melting snow in the Rocky Mountains — still course through the dam, spinning massive metal turbines that generate huge amounts of electricity in each of the units. But after some 60 years of service, the dam’s 16 oldest turbines are getting an upgrade.


Named after the Nez Perce chief who famously declared, “I will fight no more forever” in surrendering to U.S. soldiers in 1877, Chief Joseph Dam was constructed in two phases, beginning in the 1950s, which saw initial construction of a 16-turbine dam across the river. Then in the late 1970s, 11 turbines were added, these made of stainless steel instead of the CO N T I N U E D







HYDROPOWER carbon steel that was used in the older models. Now, because of a $168 million investment by taxpayers, the dam is getting an upgrade, replacing the aged carbon steel turbine runners with stainless steel. Power produced is marketed by the Bonneville Power Administration. “Most people won’t notice; they’re going to flip their light switch and the lights are still going to go on,” said Rich Fink, the deputy operations project manager at the dam. But those who run Chief Joseph 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, will certainly notice. “(The upgrades) will decrease maintenance, increase efficiency and increase the ability for us to produce more power once we increase the generator windings, too,” said Jeff Regh, chief of the technical section at the dam. The biggest change will be a reduction in maintenance. When water courses over the turbine blades, it can create a vacuum that eats away at the metal, a process called cavitation that leaves pockmarks on the metal. The resulting damage causes the turbines to run less efficiently, so once every four years, the crew takes an entire unit offline for around six weeks while workers smooth the “Most turbine blades. people With the stainless steel won’t noreplacements, tice; they’re the water can’t do that kind of going to flip damage, which their light means less downtime and switch and more power. The new the lights turbines were are still also engineered to be more going to efficient, using go on.” less water to — Rich Fink, produce the deputy operations same amount project manager of electricity. at the Chief Other Joseph Dam improvements are in the works, with additional components of the power generation infrastructure slowly being upgraded as funding becomes available. Upgrades are focused on digitizing or adding sensors to various parts of the generators, providing the operators with invaluable information about the process. Of course, with all new technology there is a learning curve, and shifting from analog to digital is never easy. “That’s part


The Chief Joseph Dam’s powerhouse is a half-mile long and houses the dam’s 27 main power units. Above right, employees inspect a scroll case where water flows down from a large penstock, or tube, and is directed into the turbine, which makes the units spin to generate electricity. Bottom, workers reassemble a unit after installing a new turbine runner, which measures 16.5 feet across. of the challenge, not only retrofitting new technology but also training our folks to work on it and maintain it,” Fink said.

turbines can help make up for either an excess or shortfall in power from other locations.



But the workers at Chief Joseph Dam are up for the challenge. The technological upgrades, such as the replacement of the turbines, the digitization of the system, and eventual updates to the generators will allow them to respond lightning fast to any problems on the grid. “Electronics has really changed the ballgame for a lot of things,” said Ace Johnson, USACE chief of operations at Chief Joseph Dam. “In the world of electricity, we deal in thousandths of a second.” When there is a fault on the line or something goes wrong, they often have only milliseconds to correct the problem. Electronically controlled or assisted

The upgrades to make the Chief Joseph Dam faster and more efficient are especially important because of the role the dam plays in the energy infrastructure of the Pacific Northwest. While other dams provide a steady baseline or base load of power to the grid, Chief Joseph is a peaking plant, a dam that is used to smooth out the amount of power being transmitted to the grid. The 27 generating units, each containing a turbine, at Chief Joseph are mostly used to lend a hand to the other hydropower plants in the area, most of which are USACE-run, like the giant Grand Coulee Dam upstream. The dam also supports other green energy projects, such as

wind, which is a growing source of power in the region. On days when the wind is blowing strong, generating plenty of power, Chief Joseph can scale back its operations, allowing water to remain in the reservoir behind the dam like a battery waiting in a drawer. But when the wind dies down, it can spring into action, getting those new stainless steel turbines spinning in just 5 to 10 minutes, and getting up to full power in as little as half an hour. “If a steam plant wants to change from 200 megawatts to 100 megawatts they just can’t do it quickly. It might take them three or four hours to do that kind of change,” Johnson said. “We can go from zero to 2,600 megawatts in half an hour.” That kind of speed could help make Chief Joseph Dam a constant presence, even in a changing energy landscape, for another 60 years.








N OLMSTED, ILL., THE U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ $3.1 billion Olmsted Locks and Dam project is replacing two aging locks and dams on the Ohio River with a single, dual-chamber structure that will improve commercial navigation to and from cities such as Pittsburgh and Louisville. Now scheduled to be operational in 2018, the replacement structure is being built “in the wet.” Unlike traditional “in-the-dry” dams, which are cast in place in drained riverbeds, in-the-wet dams are prefabricated on the riverbanks, then floated out and sunk into pre-installed foundations. The benefits include lower costs, faster construction, reduced environmental impact and safer construction — not to mention improved quality, as prefabricated segments are built to strict standards within a more controlled environment, which could translate to longer life. — Matt Alderton USACE





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Interagency collaboration is one way to tackle big projects By Brian Barth


ATER HAS A WAY of bringing the diverse interests of a nation together. So it’s no surprise that two of the largest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ projects in recent memory center on re-engineering storied

waterways — one on the Atlantic coast and one in California’s Central Valley — that has required extraordinary collaboration between the Corps and its government partners. Deep down on the Atlantic coast, where South Carolina’s Lowcountry

meets Georgia’s Sea Islands, the Savannah River runs wide and dark, breaking into a labyrinth of reedy marshes, bald cypress swamps and live oak-lined channels as it unfurls into the sea. Amid this natural CO N T I N U E D




Construction gets underway on one of two dissolved oxygen injection plants as part of the environmental mitigation for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. The massive undertaking requires working with multiple agencies.

Savannah Harbor Expansion Project

8,700 TEUs

4,600 TEUs

42 feet deep

106’ Wide

47 feet deep 141’ Wide SOURCE: USACE; THINKSTOCK

The project at Georgia's Port of Savannah, which will dredge 5 feet of mud and sand from the 33-mile-stretch of the river bottom, will extend the channel an additional 7 miles to get to an ocean depth of 47 feet, making the channel 40 miles long after deepening.

paradise, much of which lies within the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, is the Port of Savannah, one of the fastest growing ports in America and the fourth largest in the nation in terms of cargo volume. As the federal agency overseeing America’s navigable waterways, the Corps is tasked with bridging the interests of economy and ecology at this colonial city’s legendary harbor, a balancing act that has assumed even greater urgency in recent years. In 1999, Congress authorized the deepening of the Savannah harbor to better accommodate post-Panamax ships, which draft up to 50 feet. The Savannah Harbor Expansion Project, commonly referred to as SHEP, involves dredging an additional 5 feet below the current 42-foot depth of the harbor, a complicated undertaking. Unlike most of the nation’s deep water harbors, the Port of Savannah lies about 20 miles inland from ocean beaches. And the shallow

water on this stretch of the coast means that the channel must continue for almost 20 miles into the Atlantic. By the time the full 40 miles have been dredged, which isn't expected to be complete before 2021, 24 million cubic yards of material will be removed, according to Corps estimates. The agency is no stranger to projects of such massive scale, but several complicating factors have made extensive cooperation with other government agencies a prerequisite for executing the $706 million SHEP, not the least of which is concern for the delicate ecosystem of the Savannah River estuary. Project manager Spencer Davis said that half of the budget is going toward mitigation. “It’s a very environmentally conscious project,” Davis said. “Flow re-routing features are being constructed to protect CO N T I N U E D






A worker holds a torch to cut a section of a steel coffer dam pile for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. CDM Constructors, an engineering and construction firm, is the prime contractor for the dissolved oxygen injection system, an environmental mitigation feature of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Before the inner harbor can be dredged, pieces and artifacts from the Confederate ship CSS Georgia — including this sword hilt, at right, found near Old Fort Jackson this past summer — need to be removed. the sensitive freshwater wetlands in the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge that are right along the banks of the river.” Typically, the Corps is the only agency that must grant approval for harbor deepening projects, but SHEP touches on so many facets of the nation’s economic and environmental fabric that Cabinetlevel coordination was required. The Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency all had to sign off and continue to have varied levels of involvement, along with local partners such as the Georgia Ports Authority and the City of Savannah. After more than a decade of negotiation and design review, dredging began in September 2015. “The general re-evaluation report was almost 12 feet long in binders when we stacked it from end to end,” said Russell Wicke, chief of the corporate communications office in the Corps’ Savannah District. The issue at hand is the potential for

“The saltwater gradient would get pushed about a halfmile upstream, which would change the whole ecology.” — Russell Wicke, USACE Savannah District corporate communications chief

saltwater intrusion in the Savannah River’s freshwater ecosystems resulting from the riverbed’s excavation, and the ecological damage that would likely follow. If left unmitigated, a “saltwater wedge” would migrate upstream as the excavation progresses, turning freshwater wetlands into brackish wetlands. “The saltwater gradient would get pushed about a half-mile upstream, which would change the whole ecology,” Wicke said. “It can potentially have an impact up and down the food chain, from invertebrates to shellfish to fish to the predators that feed off the wildlife in the river.” The solution involves placing control

structures in the river delta’s multiple braided channels to direct freshwater from upstream to areas in danger of excess salinity downstream. The broad, meandering nature of the river, with its many oxbows and undulations forming what hydrologists refer to as the Savannah’s ‘front river,’ ‘back river,’ and ‘middle river’ — “it looks like a lump of spaghetti on a map,” said Wicke — is what enables this type of re-engineering to take place. In addition, two facilities to inject oxygen into the river are under construction, as increased salinity has the effect of decreasing dissolved oxygen levels, further threatening aquatic life.


But before the inner harbor can be dredged, a bit of history is being reckoned with. The CSS Georgia, an ironclad Confederate ship which has lain in wreckage at the bottom of the Savannah since the end of the Civil War, added an archaeological wrinkle to the SHEP mission, as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires that it be removed prior to dredging. “It’s black water conditions, coupled with an extremely fast current, which makes it a very challenging environment,” said Davis. Navy divers have recovered up to 80 percent of the wreckage, including five cannons, 241 pieces of munitions and 29,716 artifacts, which range from old bottles to portholes to sword hilts. Despite being buried underwater for more than 150 years, the heavily corroded ordnances were transported by Army explosive disposal experts to be inerted. CO N T I N U E D





U.S. Army Corps of Engineers workers oversee the final stages of the Folsom (Calif.) Dam Auxiliary Spillway's construction in April.


An aerial view shows progress on the Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway in 2014. It took nearly three years to pour 186,600 cubic yards of concrete that make up this portion of the Joint Federal Project, which is scheduled for completion in October 2017.


Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, second from left, and California Rep. Doris Matsui visit with USACE workers, including Col. Mike Farrell, far right, and the Sacramento District director for the Folsom project, David Thomas, left, at Folsom Dam in February. The Interior's U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will take control of the project once completed in 2017.

“If you’re not sure if it is live, you have to treat it as though it’s live,” Davis said. Although the challenges involved in SHEP are immense, the expected payback is even greater. That 12-foot-long general re-evaluation report concluded that the net annual economic benefit for the nation is $174 million per year, a benefit to cost ratio of 5.5 to 1. “It’s doing two things at once — being environmentally sensitive, but also getting the best return on investment for upgrading a big piece of public infrastructure,” Davis added. Across the continent in the golden rolling foothills of Northern California, a similar USACE effort is taking place, although the physical environment couldn’t be more different. Given the recent drought, flooding is not something most Americans associate with California, but historically the flat

bottomlands of the Central Valley, one of the most important agricultural regions in the country, have suffered repeated inundations. Sacramento, which sits at the confluence of the American and Sacramento rivers, is widely considered to be the most flood-prone city in the U.S. A major renovation of the Folsom Dam on the American River has been at the top of the Corps’ flood risk management priority list since long before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Located approximately 25 miles northeast of Sacramento, Folsom Lake, one of 20 reservoirs that comprise the Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project, is vital to the region’s economy and sustenance, providing water for municipal, agricultural and industrial purposes, as CO N T I N U E D



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28 well as hydroelectric power and extensive recreational opportunities to area residents. Record floods in 1986 and 1997 pushed the Folsom Dam beyond its ability to release runoff, creating a mandate to improve its flood control capacity. During the same period, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which oversees water resource management in the western U.S., was embarking on a program to improve dam safety across its portfolio after the catastrophic failure of Idaho’s Teton Dam in 1976. The enormity of both initiatives made progress slow initially, but because of an unprecedented partnership, tremendous progress has been made, culminating in the Folsom Dam Joint Federal Project (JFP) between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Corps in 2005. “Both the Corps and Reclamation had separate projects in the works going back 15 years or so, and it just made more sense to work together,” said Richard Brown, a public affairs specialist with the Corps’ Sacramento District. When expanding the floodgates of the Folsom Dam proved infeasible, a plan for an auxiliary spillway was developed instead. The $962 million “mega-project” includes an 1,100-foot approach channel; a control structure with six submerged gates that can be opened to release floodwaters; a 3,000-foot spillway chute; and an energy dissipating feature where the chute joins the American River. Completed in August 2015, the new floodgates are 50 feet lower in elevation than the existing ones, allowing dam operators to preemptively release water in anticipation of a major flood. The result is 200-year flood protection for the Sacramento metropolitan area, a new standard enacted by the California legislature for urban areas. By opening the new and existing floodgates together, the Folsom Dam can pass what the Corps considers the “probable maximum flood” test for the American River basin — 312,000 cubic feet per second, enough to fill 240 Olympic-size pools every minute. “Having the gates 50 feet lower in elevation allows us to get ahead of a storm,” said Katie Charan, a USACE senior manager on the project. “If we see a storm coming in the forecast, we can start making the release sooner so we don’t have the risk of overtopping the main dam.” Shane Hunt, a public affairs officer at the Bureau of Reclamation’s mid-Pacific regional office, said the new infrastructure is very important, even during a drought. “It’s a very small reservoir for the size of the watershed and the amount (of runoff) the basin can produce,” Hunt said. In December 2015, the water level was at an all-time low, but two months of rain brought it up to flood stage by February, necessitating a release of water to make space in the reservoir as the rains continued through the winter. The Corps’ and Bureau of Reclamation’s





Since October 2015, a border collie named Ellie has patrolled Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River in eastern Oklahoma, keeping the thousands of double-crested cormorants and ring-billed gulls who attempt to overwinter at the site at bay. While the flocks are a beautiful sight, they deposit about 11,000 pounds of excrement each year, creating health and safety risks for the operators and corroding the metal components of the infrastructure, which has resulted in about $10,000 of repair costs annually.

Visitors to Cape Cod this past summer may have witnessed an unexpected attraction: goats, specifically placed there by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ New England District for their brush-clearing capabilities. Rustling in the brush beneath the Railroad Bridge that crosses the Cape Cod Canal, a herd of these wily herbivores munched on invasive species like bittersweet, greenbrier, honeysuckle and poison ivy. The goats did such a thorough job in the challenging environment that the Corps plans to bring them back this year.

Perhaps the Corps’ most ambitious effort to harness the power of organisms is in the Chesapeake Bay, where 2 billion oysters have been “planted” on 350 acres of constructed reefs since 2010. Oysters, which have been reduced to 1 percent of their original coverage in the bay, perform important water quality services, filtering 50 gallons of water per oyster per day, while the reefs provide habitat for a host of aquatic organisms. The goal is to restore oyster habitat in 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025. — Brian Barth


“We love our Corps friends. ... Everyone kind of realized that if we join forces and work together, we can find some really great synergies.” — Shane Hunt, Bureau of Reclamation public affairs officer

precedent-setting partnership, which also involved the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency and the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, was not only necessary to realize the project, it also led to greater efficiency: The project is far ahead of schedule and considerably under budget. Originally slated for completion in 2021, the finishing touches should be in place by the end of 2016, just in time for the upcoming winter flood season, and there has been an estimated cost savings of

$500 million as a result of the partnership. Charan attributed the efficiency in part to the unique organizational structure of the JFP, which she said functions more like a consensus-based committee than the traditional hierarchy. “Federal agencies don’t always operate under the same guidelines, but the governance structure established between the two (organizations) allows us to bring any issues that we have to the table sooner rather than later, without having to take

them all the way through the chain of command to get to the top to make a decision,” she said. Cross-pollination between agencies is both fruitful and fun, Hunt added. “We love our Corps friends!” he said, laughing. “They have a bunch of smart people, and we have a bunch of smart people … (and) everyone kind of realized that if we join forces and work together, we can find some really great synergies.” And he’s not shy about jesting with his former colleagues. You know that joint governance committee? he said. “It is ironically and hilariously called the Oversight Management Group, the OMG. It’s like, ‘really guys’? USACE loves their acronyms!” Yet in all seriousness, “oh my God” is an apt reaction to a federal infrastructure project delivered five years early and a half billion dollars under budget.




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Dale Marratas, a life support analyst with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, and Mark Smith, right, an MCX-CMAC archaeologist examine findings at an excavation site in Laos.



Archaeologists lend a hand to bring long-missing pilots home

By Seth Porges


HE VIETNAM WAR ENDED decades ago, but for the families of the American pilots who went missing in action over the jungles of Southeast Asia, closure remains

elusive. This is where the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) comes in. It sounds like a mission from an action movie: Descend into the jungles of Vietnam and Laos, find the remains of the pilots and bring them home. Although for this mission, the military’s primary weapon isn’t guns but the shovels and trowels used

to excavate archaeological sites that could hold the remains of these long-lost soldiers. Key to these efforts are the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers archaeologists who are leaving the museum behind in order to help the DPAA find these fallen pilots. “It’s kind of a solemn promise that we will find all of our guys and bring them home,” said Michael “Sonny” Trimble, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections (MCX-CMAC), which is supplying many of the archaeologists for the POW/MIA missions. “Archaeology doesn’t get any more serious than this.

There are real stakes and real consequences for failure and for the families. They want closure.”


At its core, the MCX-CMAC is all about ensuring the Corps conforms to the letter of the law. Charged with handling countless excavation and construction projects, the Corps has, over the years, accumulated an extraordinarily large collection of archaeological artifacts — stone tools, ceramics and CO N T I N U E D



Share Curiosity. Read Together. w w w. r e a d . g o v





U.S. servicemembers, deployed as a recovery team for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), and local workers use screens in March to search for artifacts and remains at an excavation site in Laos.

arrowheads dug up as earth is displaced to make way for reservoirs and levees. In the 1990s, laws were passed that mandated these findings be meticulously catalogued and archived so educators and museums could have access to them. It is the job of the MCX-CMAC to make sure this is done. The MCX-CMAC, which is based at the Corps’ St. Louis District, has recruited dozens of archaeologists and specialists capable of handling and archiving these findings. And because of the 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which mandated the Corps look at all skeletal remains and notify Native American tribes that could be associated with them, the MCX-CMAC also has a large number of osteologists who study the structure of bones and other skeletal elements, such as teeth. “One day in the early 1990s, the U.S. Army called me and said they’d looked on a list and saw that we had more human osteologists than anybody else in the Army, and they needed our help,” Trimble said. For the MCX-CMAC, the partnership was an opportunity for its archaeologists to get



out of a stuffy museum while engaging in a project that matters to people. “They get some extra experience and travel and certainly an adventure of a lifetime,” Trimble said. “If you think about it as an archaeologist, what could be better than to do something to help retrieve remains and help a family gain some closure and bring these people home?” For six years in the 1990s, the MCXCMAC and DPAA worked closely on the

POW/MIA project on upwards of 80 missions, according to Trimble. He declined to share specific details about previous or recent findings, but acknowledged that remains and personal effects, in addition to aircraft parts and pieces of clothing, have been found, but out of respect for the families, and as a policy of DPAA, that information is not released by the Corps. Recently, there has been pressure from Congress — as well as increased funding — to increase the rate of these missions. And so, as a rare institution that has both familiarity with this type of mission and the specialized manpower to help, the MCX-CMAC is back on board, sending archaeologists to Asia. The partnership was picked up again in October 2015, and there are 17 recovery missions currently scheduled for the first year. “For our archaeologists, it is a once-ina-lifetime opportunity to serve the United States and United States military,” said Jennifer Riordan, a physical anthropologist and NAGPRA coordinator with the USACE CO N T I N U E D

For a soldier, coming home can be difficult. And perhaps no time was that truer than during the Great Recession. “A lot of vets couldn’t find jobs and I wanted to figure out: How can I help these guys who I feel such a devotion to?” said Michael “Sonny” Trimble, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mandatory Center of Expertise for the Curation and Management of Archaeological Collections, or MCX-CMAC. “I was talking to a friend about it and he pointed out that I was in charge of all the archaeology at the Corps of Engineers, and didn’t that mean I was in charge of resources? I literally hung up on the guy and put together a plan with my staff in two days.” And so the Veterans Curation Program was created: A byapplication program that, since 2009, has brought in more than 300 veterans to help manage the Corps’ massive archaeological collection at labs in the Washington area, St. Louis and Georgia. The law requires that anything dug up during a USACE project be properly archived. Veterans who are accepted into the program spend five months learning how to process artifacts. While the skills can be useful for future jobs, for many veterans, the real value is being able to gently acclimate to a professional work environment. “It was a lot of little things that you don’t learn in infantry, like Microsoft Office and Access and help writing my résumé,” said John Davis, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, graduated from the program in 2014 and now works as a cartographic technician. “It was also about learning how to deal in an office. ... As a veteran, I tend to have a bit of a salty vocabulary.” — Seth Porges THINKSTOCK





“Archaeology doesn’t get any more serious than this. There are real stakes and real consequences for failure and for the families. They want closure.” — Michael “Sonny” Trimble, chief of the MCX-CMAC

St. Louis District and MCX-CMAC. “A lot of times people may think we’re just digging up arrowheads. This type of thing allows us to showcase the kind of impact we can have.”


The journey begins at Joint Base Hickam-Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. There, MCX-CMAC archaeologists are trained in DPAA protocols and assigned necessary gear. When they arrive in Southeast Asia, it’s clear that this is unlike any expedition they’ve been a part of. “You’re the only archaeologist there, and you’ve got a team of 60 to 100 people working with you and you have to keep an eye on everything,” said Mark Smith, an MCX-CMAC archaeologist who recently returned from a DPAA site in Laos. The job can also be more physically trying than a typical archaeological dig. MCX-CMAC archaeologists are stationed in potentially rough conditions for more than two months at a time. Depending on the specific site, they could be staying in hotel-like accommodations or sleeping in rugged jungle basecamps. Fortunately, these excavations are rarely needle-in-a-haystack missions. According to Trimble, the Army has detailed records regarding which aircraft went down, and often where they went down. A lot of the difficulty then comes from how the landscape may have changed. Since the Vietnam War ended, a once-remote crash site could have been covered by a village, farm or rice paddy. The new missions have yielded numerous findings, Trimble said. Advanced forensic equipment allows for DNA matches of bone fragments, often removing uncertainty about the identity of remains. However, according to Smith, it’s the more personal items — a watch or dog tag — that really brings home the personal nature of the work. “You find something the person had on them and then the first thing that comes to mind is: ‘Wow, this was in this guy’s pocket when he crashed,’” Smith said. “It humanizes it, rather than it just being a scientific excavation. This is an individual who had a life and has a family who is still wondering about him.”


U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Jon Kristoffersen, working for DPAA, excavates for remains in Laos, in March. The team’s efforts focused on looking for personnel who went down in a Sikorsky HH-3E helicopter during a reconnaissance mission.

















ATTENTION Corps’ specialized organizations provide global support, expertise


By Adam Stone

















In addition to its nine divisions, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also operates specialized centers that support their work.

HEN IT COMES TO the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, most people think local. Building bridges, maintaining dams, keeping the navigation channels open: In tackling these tasks, the Corps’ nine regional divisions serve targeted geographies. While these efforts may be the Corps’ most visible work, some things do not lend themselves to a localized approach. Such needs may encompass research and development programs; project management; and policies for the use of geospatial data. All these far-reaching activities call for expertise that cuts across geographic boundaries, as they address issues that affect the Corps’ activities on a national level. “Their districts follow watersheds, mostly along jurisdictional boundaries. So anything that crosses disciplines, that crosses jurisdictional boundaries, they need a way to address that,” said Eric Holdeman. As principal at emergency management consultancy firm Eric Holdeman and Associates, he has consulted with the Corps on flood issues and other matters for the past 25 years. Through a range of specialized centers meant to deal with big-picture problems, the Corps


Blast-resistant wallpaper for buildings, designed by the ERDC, provides additional protection to soldiers or other inhabitants of a structure. addresses such broad-based needs. The Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC); the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville; and the Army Geospatial Center (AGC) all contribute to the success of more localized efforts. (A fourth center, the Army Corps of Engineers Finance Center, handles day-to-day operational finance.)


The ERDC, a 2,500-person organization, exists to seek out scientific data to help solve pressing issues within the Corps’ civil and military audiences. With a budget of about $1.1 billion a year, ERDC draws the bulk of its funding from reimburs-

able research projects performed for government and civilian clients. ERDC serves federal agencies in addition to state, local and foreign governments, international organizations and the private sector. But the center produces more than research: This is science meant to drive specific ends. When American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon on 9/11 it collided in part with a section of walls and windows that had just been upgraded based on ERDC research. “It saved the lives of people who were directly in the path of the plane, when people on either side were killed,” said CO N T I N U E D







Jeff Holland, director of the Vicksburg, Miss.-based center. While ERDC researchers are geographically dispersed, working in four centers nationwide, they share a single purpose. “The common theme among all those people is that they love to see their science and engineering skills used to help people,” Holland said. “The vast majority of our folks are drawn to the organization because they like to see their research applied to solve real problems.” In one recent example, researchers developed supply kits to enable Air Force personnel to make emergency repairs to remote airfields. The center also helps to support Operation Inherent Resolve to eliminate the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS. Through its Reachback Operations Center, ERDC provides research expertise to support deployed forces or personnel requiring specialized engineering assistance. For a hands-on organization such as the Corps, a program set aside for R&D can be an invaluable asset. “They need a place to vet ideas or plans or concepts. It’s important to have a one-stop shop to sit and think clearly about the direction we want to move in,” said Brock Long, executive vice president of emergency management group Hagerty Consulting. As a former director of Alabama’s Emergency Management Agency, he has worked closely with USACE on preparedness and recovery issues. Where theoretical scientists may have the luxury of time, ERDC’s practical mission challenges the team to keep up a steady pace of discovery. “We have the ability to integrate things quickly, and to make it all actionable,” Holland said. “For the military customer especially, I have got to be able to get that solution onto the battle (field) faster than the other guy can do it.”


With more than 40 programs and about 900 employees serving a range of federal customers to the tune of $2.1 billion in business a year, as reported by USACE, the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, may be the epitome of what these specialized centers are all about. The center’s services include technical support, project management expertise, creative contracting, munitions removal, security systems and even hospital design. It makes sense to consolidate all this expertise, said Col. Robert J. Ruch, immediate past commander of the center in Huntsville, Ala. “The Corps can’t afford to be a full-service organization at every one of our locations,” he said.

Services performed by the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, include clearing and testing munitions. Above, a specialist uses robots to run a test at the Pueblo (Colo.) Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant. At right, a Blue Grass (Ky.) Chemical AgentDestruction Pilot Plant worker tests signals on a conveyer door in the Munitions Demilitarization Building.


In recent examples, center personnel disposed of more than 5,600 tons of U.S. and coalition forces NATO Condition Code H unserviceable munitions in Afghanistan. They also routinely provide “virtual” project managers — off-site experts who assist with military construction projects and delivered construction and other services in the $31.4 million expansion of the Keller Army Community Hospital in West Point, N.Y. This really is the crux of the center’s value. In each of these cases, the Huntsville Center — as with the other centers — offers a suite of solutions that reach across the Corps. The centers can leverage their value as a force multiplier, tackling projects that cut across geographical bounds or deliver a

depth of expertise not otherwise available. “Let’s say someone in the Corps is going to clear a building site, and maybe munitions have been used there before. We’ll come in and remove those,” said Ruch, who in May was replaced by Lt. Col. Burlin L. Emery. Suppose a government installation wants to lower its electric bill. “They tell us they are using too much energy, they want to overhaul their monitoring and control systems. That requires a niche expertise.” All that technical know-how generates value across the Corps, especially when it may not be possible for a district to access a full complement of needed skills. “When you look at the different districts, you can’t CO N T I N U E D






always find that kind of expertise in every most people don’t understand how really region,” Holdeman said. successful this program has been,” he said, Often the center’s work drives a direct noting that a demolition plant costs about financial impact. For $1 billion and requires a example, its high degree of technical $61 million upgrade of expertise. “Would we “The vast the Rock Island Arsenal really want each district Joint Manufacturing and to learn it from the get-go majority of our Technology Center Plating and build one themselves? folks are drawn shop in Illinois is expected No. That’s why you go to a to cut energy use by centralized program.” to the organizaapproximately Just as challenging as the tion because 35 percent and generate technical need was Ruch’s up to $5.3 million in annual imperative to run his shop they like to see energy and operational like a business. The center savings, USACE reports. has no budget, but instead their research The project is expected is paid by agencies that applied to solve to be completed in the first engage its services, such half of 2017, according to as the Defense Logistics real problems.” lead contractor Honeywell. Agency and NASA. “That — Jeff Holland, Some of the center’s means we must deliver on an ERDC director projects may seem every single job. Unlike drab. Heating systems? other people in the governContracting vehicles? But ment who have captive there is more exciting stuff in the mix — customers, my customers don’t have to like chemical weapons disposal. come back to me next year,” Ruch said. As a signatory to the Chemical Weapons BETTER MAPS Convention, the United States is obligated This is a heady time for geospatial to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. technology. Data for geospatial analysis Working with the Army’s Assembled comes primarily from satellites, and there Chemical Weapons Alternatives program, are more of these than ever speeding along Ruch said his team has been building the in silent orbit. Their cameras focus more facilities in which 90 percent of the stockclearly on ever-smaller objects, sending pile has been destroyed. (Of nine facilities, back reams of detailed data to operators seven have completed their work and are on Earth. Increasingly, intelligent analytics no longer in service. A facility in Pueblo, turn that data into actionable information. Colo., was recently completed, and a facility In Alexandria, Va., experts at the Army in Bluegrass, Ky., is under construction.) Geospatial Center (AGC) labor to ensure “That has gone off without a hitch and

Christopher Kennedy, a geographer with the Army Geospatial Center Warfighter Support Directorate, uses a GPS-enabled digital camera to take images of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif. Data collected is used to create high-fidelity elevation surface models that provide terrain information for mission planning, rehearsal, tactical analysis and after action reviews.

that information is used in the same way across the Army, and that everyone who needs it can squeeze every last drop of tactical data from those reams of observations, according to Joseph Fontanella, director of the AGC. This is no small feat. For decades, individual organizations have used geospatial data in idiosyncratic ways. “There are multiple Army systems, over 100 systems, that consume or create geospatial intelligence or information,” said Fontanella, whose $400 million annual budget supports some 300 employees. “We want to eliminate these stovepipes, to consolidate all these standards and formats and processes to create a common operating picture.” Any time the center can establish a standard across operating units, soldiers stand a better chance of succeeding, Fontanella said: “If everybody is using the same imagery, the same data, in the same way, then at the end of the day you have a common view of the battlefield. Then you have the highest fidelity possible.” Those common standards are also a boon to commercial vendors. USACE’s efforts to develop geospatial standards will provide the companies with guidelines on how to design and operate a customized product, said Prateep Basu, an analyst in India with Northern Sky Research, which consults on the use of satellite data by the military and others. “This brings us greater operational transparency, lesser lead time for new development or making modifications to existing systems, and eventually lower costs for the commercial vendor.” Ultimately, this work is intended to make a tangible difference to the warfighter on the battlefield. “If we are going to conduct combat in a city, we are going to need fidelity down to the centimeter, including subterranean imagery, including the interiors of buildings and what they are made out of,” Fontanella said. “Are they made out of straw and mud or 12 inches of concrete? I think the technology is there to tell us that.”







EDUCATION As part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ STEM outreach program, fifth-graders from Norfolk Christian Lower School in Norfolk, Va., learn about the importance of oysters to the area’s ecosystem.




Using Kool-Aid, bikes and oysters to put kids on a science track By Rachel Kaufman


N THE ERA OF growing class sizes and overworked teachers, any help from committed, educated volunteers is welcomed. And for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bringing science, technology, engineering and math into classrooms worldwide is a calling. While the Corps has an outreach mandate for districts to educate the public on what they do, implementation is gener-

ally up to interpretation. When it comes to getting the next generation interested in STEM fields, across the country and at American-run schools around the world, Corps members give up their lunch breaks and weekends to teach kids important skills through games and contests. Funding is scant-to-none but the excitement level is high as the Corps encourages outreach from its highest levels of leadership down

to rank-and-file employees. Some districts use tried-and-true teaching games, like building bridges of toothpicks and marshmallows (always a hit). Others generate excitement about STEM through field trips to Corpsmanaged sites or hands-on projects with real-world impacts. CO N T I N U E D




Steve Fischer, environmental team lead, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, assists students in Portland, Ore., with finishing touches on their newly built bikes. Above, students ride bikes through a series of obstacle courses. TRISHA DORSEY/USACE; THINKSTOCK

When it comes to getting the next generation interested in STEM fields, Corps members give up their lunch breaks and weekends to teach kids important skills through games and contests. And one of those projects tastes great with a little mignonette sauce. On a sunny day in April, fifth-graders from Norfolk Christian Lower School in Norfolk, Va., ride out in a boat to the Elizabeth River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay. Clutched in their hands: oysters. With the Corps’ help, these students have been raising and studying Crassostrea virginica oysters during the school year, and now that the oysters have reached maturity, it’s time to release them into the river where each will filter up to 50 gallons of water a day by eating tiny particles. “We talk about being good stewards of the environment and how that’s important,” said Laura Edwards, advanced

academics teacher at the private K-5 academy. At the beginning of the semester, the students watched Common Ground, a documentary by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on the oysters’ critical role in maintaining the health of the bay. The documentary was the lead-in to the yearlong school project at the Army Corps’ Norfolk District office. Students took measurements on water quality and temperature and learned about averages and graphing and identifying sea animals while coming to understand the economic and environmental importance of oysters. By working in tandem with the Corps, the kids get more adult supervision from knowledgeable, educated scientists and

engineers, said Edwards. And the dedication is apparent. Kristen Scheler, an environmental scientist and the community outreach lead for USACE Norfolk’s STEM program, said, “The students are fairly knowledgeable … by the end of the year, they’re self-sufficient.”


Three thousand miles away in Portland, Ore., kids are learning about physics through BMX rides. Paul Cloutier, tribal liaison for the Corps’ Northwestern Division in Portland, Ore., helped to create a two-weekend program at the Native American Youth and Family Center using curriculum from Boy Scouts of America (although the workshop was open to both boys and girls.) BMX donated 15 bike kits, and Army Corps volunteers helped the 9- to 12-yearolds assemble them. Then, after allowing for some rambunctious pedaling by excited youngsters, the kids got to work. “We’d do time trials with (adjusting)

the seat post,” said Cloutier, who lives and works in Oregon but was born into the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Nation in Michigan. “Do you get better speed when the seat is too low, too high or just right? We’d also do that with tire pressure.” The group set up ramps to demonstrate kinetic and potential energy and held contests to see how far the children could go without pedaling, compared with heavier adults. The kids also learned how to care for their tools and bikes. The lessons included nutrition and fitness information, important for the Native American community, which has higher rates of obesity than the general population. For the kids, the free program meant playing with expensive bikes. Cloutier hopes, though, that his work has a broader effect — teaching young Native American children that they can find a pathway to a steady, high-paying job in STEM. “They’re called underrepresented communities for a reason,” he said. “It’s CO N T I N U E D







Wiesbaden Middle School in Wiesbaden, Germany


Janet Post, a regulatory project manager with the Corps’ Alaska Division, second from right, uses a plastic model of wetlands to teach students how pollutants on land affect beluga whales during a recent STEM Night demonstration at Turnagain Elementary School in Anchorage. because we don’t see a lot of Native youth (entering) these career fields. The potential that’s there is vast. And the gifts that you can get from that type of an education, that type of a career, if it’s something that you’re really excited about and passionate about, those kids will never work a day in their life, because they’ll be doing something they absolutely love. “That’s what I really want to see happen for these kids,” Cloutier added. “For them to see there is an opportunity there for them, an opportunity that’s going to help them provide for themselves and their families.” An added bonus: The children especially love meeting Corps volunteers. Cloutier introduced one young boy to JR Inglis, tribal liaison for the Portland District, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and a member of the Nez Perce tribe. “His eyes got big as saucers,” Cloutier said. “Seeing a tribal member who actually flew planes in the Air Force, he was really excited. It might have been the first time in a long time where he saw that maybe there’s an opportunity for him to

do something that he thinks is really, really cool.”


Anchorage, Alaska, is probably not the first place you think of when you hear wetlands, but Alaska’s most populous city has more than 14,000 acres of streams, bogs and marshes. And protecting those delicate habitats is serious business for the city and the Corps. That’s why Janet Post, a regulatory project manager with the Army Corps’ Alaska Division, is at Turnagain Elementary School pouring powdered Kool-Aid onto a plastic model of a wetland ecosystem. The Kool-Aid represents pollutants. Cocoa powder stands in for waste from dairy farms. Salad dressing is an oil spill. Fifth-graders then “make it rain” by spraying the system with a water bottle, and the “pollutants” run downhill to the beach and spread out until they reach a plastic beluga whale. “The kids pretty much scream in horror when the pollutants touch the beluga,” Post said.

Then they run the experiment again, with sponges standing in for wetlands. When they see that the sponges absorb the chemicals and protect the marine wildlife, they’ve learned a lesson about being good stewards to the environment. “It’s not necessarily a new idea, but it’s (presented in) a different way,” said Laura Eastham, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher who’s been working with Corps volunteers for about five years at Turnagain Elementary. “Sometimes (my students) don’t listen to me all the time,” she said, laughing. “So when you bring someone in from the outside and that’s their job — (the subject) is not just something I’m teaching them arbitrarily. It’s important.” For Post, talking to kids is important, too, and not just because it might steer them toward a career in science, technology, engineering or math. “I believe in the idea of having sustainability over the next seven generations,” said Post. “And a really good way to do that is to educate our youth, because they will be the caretakers of our future.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers doesn’t confine its STEM work to the United States. At military bases around the world, children of deployed servicemembers can also reap the benefits of having USACE volunteers in the classroom. At Wiesbaden Middle School, part of the school system at the U.S. Army Garrison in Wiesbaden, Germany, Europe District volunteers have been working with students for more than a decade. With the Corps’ assistance, the school recently won the coveted U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Award, which goes to schools with a strong STEM and environmental education program that have also reduced their carbon footprints. According to Lt. Col. Charles A. Hemphill, deputy commander, Europe District, and the Corps’ STEM coordinator in Europe, in just the past five years, 1,500 students have taken part. “One of the Corps’ priorities is to attract students to science, technology, engineering and math,” Hemphill said. “Hopefully our engagement with the students encourages them to explore STEM-related fields. They are our future, and we are passing the torch to them.” — Rachel Kaufman USACE; THINKSTOCK







EAGLE KILLER Scientists work to eradicate a toxic algae deadly to some birds without uprooting an ecosystem By Hannah Waters

The fast-growing aquatic plant hydrilla fosters blue-green algae, which produces a neurotoxin that’s fatal to some birds. DAVID J. MOORHEAD/UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA/BUGWOOD.ORG






N 1998, A KILLER emerged from J. Strom Thurmond Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir straddling the border of Georgia and South Carolina. It wasn’t your typical Hollywood swamp monster dripping slime and trailing mud as it hobbled from the water. It was blue-green algae — clinging to underwater plants and producing a deadly neurotoxin that attacks the brain in certain species of birds. Although there’s no evidence it’s harmful to humans, the single-celled organism known as cyanobacteria renders fowl unable to fly or feed themselves and causes death within days or weeks. It’s not known exactly when the algae arrived at the lake, but it found a welcoming home on hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant now found throughout the South. When large flocks feed on hydrilla, a percentage become ill from avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM), the neurologic disease caused by the algae. And because waterbird deaths largely go unnoticed, AVM was quietly killing plentiful waterfowl. But then it made the mistake of messing with bald eagles. The water birds that become neurologically impaired from AVM become easy prey for eagles, effectively transferring the toxin up the food chain. “When it started killing eagles, then suddenly it became a big deal because it’s our national symbol,” said USACE biologist Mark Cornish. “People really cared and wanted the answer: Why are our eagles dying?” Since the first bald eagles died from AVM in Arkansas in 1994, Corps scientists have been on the case. Now they’re developing an ambitious plan to reduce eagle deaths at


Thurmond Lake, a hotspot for the algae and its avian victims. Since 1998, 81 bald eagles have been found dead at the 71,000-acre man-made reservoir, many of the deaths attributed to AVM. Ridding the lake of the blue-green algae to protect the birds, however, is a complex issue because its existing and fast-expanding hydrilla host has become a desired part of the lake ecosystem for many fishermen and hunters. Before the invasive plant pervaded Thurmond Lake in 1995, few native underwater plants grew there. Now, the invasive hydrilla serves as food and habitat for sportfish such as bass and attracts waterbirds, including American coots, geese and ducks. So while hydrilla has allowed life to flourish in the lake, it’s also playing host to algae that kills birds. “Yes, it’s an attractant. But it’s also an attractant that’s carrying a toxin,” said


biologist Michael Netherland of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC). As a result, the Corps has found itself in a tough spot. “We have so many people that both live on the lake as well as recreate on the lake, and they have very different opinions about what they want in terms of the hydrilla,” Netherland added. “That’s a hard decision without AVM. When you add AVM onto it, it just becomes an even more complex issue.”


If blue-green algae could worry, it would worry about University of Georgia aquatic ecologist Susan Wilde. As a biologist for CO N T I N U E D

Susan Wilde, center, top left, helps researchers band, draw blood and affix a radio transmitter to a juvenile eaglet to research avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM). American coots, inset, are especially susceptible to contracting AVM. Above, Michael Netherland, left, and Donald Morgan of USACE collect hydrilla in Florida.



ENVIRONMENT the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in 2001, Wilde said she was tasked with investigating any unusual wildlife deaths associated with toxic algae. So when she read in the newspaper that 17 eagles had died at Thurmond Lake and no one knew why, she couldn’t stay away. By that time, Wilde said that dead eagles with brain lesions had been found at 10 lakes in the South. Wilde visited Thurmond Lake and nearby sites to determine whether any shared features could be connected to the deaths. They could: They were all blanketed in hydrilla. Examining hydrilla leaves under the microscope and fluorescent light, Wilde detected red firework-like bursts on the underside of the leaves — blue-green algae that she’d never seen before. The algae was her prime AVM suspect. So she joined an informal network of researchers studying the disease at Thurmond Lake. USACE scientists (with those from other state and federal agencies) monitor wild birds for unusual behavior and send dead birds suspected of AVM for necropsy at the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study (SCWDS) at the University of Georgia. Through experiments, the group confirmed Wilde’s suspicion that birds develop AVM after eating the algae on the hydrilla, and this prompted USACE to fund her research so they could learn more. In 2014, she named the new species “eagle killer” (Aetokthonos hydrillicola) — a positive identification of the culprit. Animals with AVM develop brain lesions, which can make it difficult to swim, walk or fly. Today, AVM lurks in at least 20 lakes and

surface of the water in a straight line, gathering velocity until they take wing. Coots afflicted with AVM, however, run in a zig-zag fashion, if they are able to fly at all. “In the worst cases, they’re swimming in a circle on the surface of the lake,” said SCWDS director John Fischer, who’s necropsied many AVM-infected birds. “Well, the worst-case scenario, of course, is finding them dead. Even worse than that would be an eagle finding them before you do.” While some birds do not appear neurologically impaired, certain affected eagles have been seen stumbling on land, having difficulty taking off from the water or land, wobbling in flight or showing a loss of their righting reflex in water, Dayan said. At its most-advanced stage, AVM makes affected birds appear listless, experience vision loss and even become partially paralyzed, he added. The only proof of AVM is the microscopic lesions in the brain and it’s not known what causes those lesions or how to treat or cure AVM. Given that, there’s only one way to help the birds: Get rid of AVM’s hydrilla host. KEN BOYD/USACE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Craig Koppie places radio transmitters on juvenile eaglets to monitor for avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM) at Thurmond Lake in 2015. reservoirs in the southern U.S. (a small fraction of all hydrilla locations), according to Nathan Dayan, a biologist and environmental team leader in the planning division of the USACE Savannah District and co-author of a USACE AVM/hydrilla environmental assessment published in April. While it grows on other aquatic plants,

the blue-green algae appears to thrive on hydrilla. That’s unfortunate, because wherever hydrilla grows, it takes over — and its lush abundance attracts migratory waterfowl, including duck-like American coots. Once afflicted, their behavior is erratic. Healthy coots, for instance, run on the


STOPPING AN INVASIVE SPECIES Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata) is among the world’s most invasive plants. Native to Southeast Asia, it entered U.S. waterways in the 1950s after people started dumping their aquariums in lakes and riverbeds. It now lives on every continent except Antarctica. Where hydrilla puts down roots, it thrives and can grow to cover thousands of acres. Its broken stems sprout into new plants, so it readily reaches new waterways by hitchhiking on boats. The Corps controls hydrilla in USACE reservoirs throughout its range.

But the best control is stopping its spread by cleaning hydrilla from boats, especially when moving between waterways. Hydrilla isn’t the only aquatic invader on the Corps’ hit list. USACE installed electric barriers to keep Asian carp, invasive fish that escaped from aquaculture tanks in the 1970s, out of the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, since the 1980s, invasive zebra mussels have spread in the opposite direction — from the Great Lakes south down the Mississippi River — and the Corps is trying to limit their spread in Texas.

“Eagle-killer” algae under fluorescent microscope SUSAN WILDE


Exterminating hydrilla is a difficult task made easier by fish known as grass carp. Often released into lakes to control overgrown plants, grass carp would like nothing more than to eat hydrilla all day; they’re functionally hydrilla lawnmowers. The problem is that the carp are too good at what they do, said USACE biologist Netherland. Releasing enough to devour the thousands of acres of hydrilla at Thurmond Lake would mean eliminating all underwater plants. Seeking compromise, USACE will take on the challenge of removing only some of the invasive plant by targeting hydrilla in areas of the lake thought to be responsible for the greatest toxin production. A draft management plan published in April describes a strategy to halve hydrilla cover through a combination of sterile grass carp and herbicides. The fish will be released at locations near recorded AVM deaths and, from there, they’ll move down the shoreline, munching the hydrilla-paved road. USACE scientists will apply herbicides to patches of dense hydrilla missed by the fish and to overgrown areas near docks. But even if the plan is approved with no hiccups, fish won’t be released into Thurmond Lake for at least a year. From there, USACE scientists will closely monitor hydrilla to see how quickly (or slowly) it’s being eaten and will release more fish (or not) as needed. And if eagles continue to turn up dead, Corps scientists will know that 50 percent removal isn’t enough — they’ll have to do more.





ENVIRONMENT To corral anticipated flood waters, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erected temporary barriers along a 3-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River in January.



In California, the Corps wrestles with the irony of flood protection in a state wracked by drought By Adam Hadhazy


T’S A PARADOX: THE most populous U.S. state, California, is also among the most prone to natural disasters, from earthquakes and wildfires to landslides and floods. That last threat sounds like a bad joke in light of the Golden State’s extreme drought, now well into its fifth year. The unprecedented drought has compelled widespread water austerity measures and left idle a million acres of farmland in the agriculture-rich Central Valley. Yet as California history shows, flooding

remains a very real danger, especially in the rainy season from October through March. To counter this threat, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for 62 of some 1,400 dams in the state, according to Heather Babb, USACE public affairs chief with the South Pacific Division. These dams capture and strategically release the huge volumes of water dumped by storms and snowmelt that would otherwise wantonly overflow river banks, wrecking infrastructure and putting lives at risk.

A multitude of partners at the federal, state and local levels work with the Corps at these dam facilities to address water supply issues, provide recreation opportunities and — now more than ever — promote water conservation. “We strongly believe in partnership in anything we do and of course water conservation is extremely important to California,” said Col. Eric McFadden of the Corps. “We are supporting the efforts to assist our partners in navigating through these challenging times.”

McFadden is the deputy commander of the Corps’ South Pacific Division, which includes the three Corps districts covering California, named after the cities of San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles. The precious water held at these districts’ dams can be utilized to slake the needs of residents, businesses, industry and agriculture. Based on meteorological records, the Corps sets the rules on how much water CO N T I N U E D





ENVIRONMENT can safely be retained within a dam’s reservoir to avoid the risk of additional inflows from storms that could endanger containment. In practice, this protection plan means that during the rainy winter season, dams are only allowed to fill to a certain capacity before water must be released downstream and lost to the ocean. It’s a tricky balance for the Corps in fulfilling its principal, congressionally directed duty to protect millions of Californians from floods while helping out with the drought as well. “The last five years have been very difficult from the water management end,” said Cuong Ly, the senior hydrology/hydraulic and water management engineer for the South Pacific Division. “The challenge has been how do we operate our reservoirs in a way that we still maintain our mandate set by Congress, but be flexible enough in times of extreme drought.” So that some extra water could be kept handy, the Corps recently approved three requests at its dams to allow “deviations” from the reservoirs’ proscribed, maximum levels during flood season. A deviation at the Prado Dam in Orange County, for instance, this winter conserved an extra 7,326 acre-feet of water — enough for more than 14,000 typical households’ annual water usage. (An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, enough to cover about a football field 1 foot deep, according to the Corps.) The other dams whose reservoirs were permitted to pool additional water are Whittier Narrows, east of Los Angeles,

and the Coyote Valley Dam in Northern Dam’s Lake Mendocino. California’s Mendocino County. A multi-agency team is gauging modern The Corps has further braced the state weather forecasts’ accuracy, backed by for drought-alleviating but potentially satellites and high-performance computer dangerous amounts of rain caused by the technologies, to guide reservoir decisions return of El Niño, the warm phase of a on a day-to-day basis. Pacific Ocean climate pattern. For instance, if a reservoir is over its To corral the anticimandated winter pated flood waters, the capacity of, say, 60 Corps erected temporary percent, but the forecast barriers along a 3-mile predicts no regional “We strongly stretch of the Los Angeles rain for several days, a River in January. Officials water release might be believe in also feared mudslides unnecessary. partnership in because of parched The question grounds having lost boils down to, “how anything we do much of their soil-holding often do you believe the and of course vegetation. weatherman?” said Mike Though El Niño Dillabough, chief of the water conservadelivered significant Operations and Readiness tion is extremely rainfall in early 2016, Division for the Corps’ fortunately its drenching San Francisco District important to storms arrived in spurts, and a member of the rather than overwhelmFIRO steering committee. California.” ing deluges. “Most people say 50 — Col. Eric McFadden, “We did not see (the) percent, but a reservoir deputy commander amount of flooding cannot operate like that. South Pacific Division we anticipated,” said People’s lives are at stake McFadden. “So that’s a downstream.” good news story.” Assuming the project Given California’s allconfirms high forecasting but-certain future as an infamously volatile precision over several years of study, FIRO region, further exacerbated by climate could modernize both flood control and change, the Corps and its partners continue water conservation. That would be good for to explore ways of maximizing water all Californians, Corps members included, supply while preserving flood control. because every drop of water counts. A promising effort is the Forecast“We all live in the area,” said Ly. “We Informed Reservoir Operations, or FIRO, a suffer through the drought like everybody pilot project now running at Coyote Valley else.”


A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers San Francisco District boat is placed at Lake Mendocino in Mendocino County, Calif., as part of an emergency operation to help keep water supplied to the estimated 4,000 residents in the Redwood Valley Water district in early February 2014. The effects of a drought had lowered lake levels near the water district’s intake pipe, which could have effectively left thousands without water.


The drought has taken a toll on California wildlife, too, including the Central California Coast coho salmon. Like other salmon, these fish migrate, returning as adults from the ocean to the freshwater streams to spawn, their bodies turning a rich red hue as they make the journey. In the early 2000s, a multiagency effort involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers saved the coho in the Russian River, whose tributaries snake through wine country north of San Francisco. The coho population there faced extinction because of damming, overfishing and habitat degradation. “A decade ago, you could have counted the number of adult coho returning to the Russian River watershed on your two hands,” said Ben White, a fisheries biologist with the Corps’ San Francisco District. The Corps set up a broodstock program at a hatchery at Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma, where biologists continue to rear coho in captivity and release them into the wild, sustaining the population. “Within five or six years of running this program, we had up over 500 adults coming back,” said White. Then the rains stopped and the shallow streams where the coho spawned dried up. Counts of adults returning have since decreased year-on-year. “The drought hit us pretty hard,” said White. But for now, the outlook remains positive. The Corps is working with the Sonoma County Water Agency to restore several miles of Dry Creek habitat to help ensure the coho’s survival. “We want to get these fish off of the endangered list,” said Mike Dillabough, chief of the Operations and Readiness Division for the Corps’ San Francisco District. - Adam Hadhazy THINKSTOCK







RESEARCH PHYSICAL SCIENTIST Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), Vicksburg, Miss.


Afrachanna Butler extracts contaminants from explosives found in the roots of plants using a method developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

PERFECT FIT Four employees find a place for their passion in the Army Corps By Stephanie Anderson Witmer


ROM THE TIME SHE was in elementary school in rural Mississippi, Afrachanna Butler excelled at science. She was a straight-A student through high school, and went to college to become a medical doctor. But after a college internship, Butler developed an interest in research and decided to follow a new career path through graduate school rather than medical school, earning her Ph.D. from Jackson State University in environmental science in 2009. Butler had seen firsthand the possibilities the Corps offered in the field of research. Her mother worked for the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and, as a kid, Butler loved visiting her there. “Exposing me to some of the work people were doing here, I was like, ‘These things are really cool!’” Butler, 38, said. “That made me more focused on and interested in what I’m doing now.” She started her own career at ERDC while she was in graduate school, working for six years as a student in the same environmental laboratory where she works today. She was hired as an employee in 2007, researching both for her job and her doctoral thesis how different grasses can prevent or mitigate contaminants from explosives from polluting groundwater and surface water. In the future, military installations that test explosives may be able to implement Butler’s work to prevent contamination. Butler also does outreach with local high school and college students, including participating in STEM camps and mentoring budding scientists. Her efforts earned her a Black Engineer of the Year Community Service Award in 2016. It all goes back to those early dreams of working in science to help people. “Being a medical doctor, you’re preventing people from being sick, but when I got involved in this research, I looked at it from the same perspective,” Butler said. “If you have these contaminants in the environment and you can provide solutions or preventive methods, then I’m still helping someone.” CO N T I N U E D






Ethan Weikel’s invention won the Corps’ 2015 Innovation of the Year Award, in large part because of its cost-saving capabilities.


Baltimore District, Baltimore


Ethan Weikel created a ground-source geothermal-testing system that gives engineers a more mobile and less costly way to measure the heat transfer capabilities in the earth. ALFREDO BARRAZA/USACE

THAN WEIKEL HAS ALWAYS been fascinated with rocks and water. When it was time for college, he applied to exactly one school — the College of William and Mary in Virginia — to study geology. “Unlike a lot of people, who maybe don’t know what they want to do when they go to college or even when they’re done with college, I really knew that’s what I wanted to do, and I’ve been working on it ever since,” said Weikel, 37. That singular focus has served him well at the Corps, where he’s worked as a geologist for the Baltimore District since 2009. Weikel is a specialist in applied hydrogeology, so while he works on an array of projects, they all are connected to water and how it moves through the Earth’s subsurface. The projects involve environmental remediation, water supply and dams and levees. They’re challenging but crucial, he said, and the results — protecting human health and safety and ecological resources — are rewarding. The Corps also affords Weikel the ability to embrace his “tinkerer” side. In 2012, he built a ground source geothermal–testing system using off-the-shelf materials, including a cooler, truck engine heaters and a pump for a backyard spa. And he said

he built it in two days, for 75 percent less than what similar commercial testing units cost. It’s light and 25 percent smaller than the smallest commercial system, making it easily portable to and from other districts so that it can be used before plans are drafted for new geothermal heating and cooling systems. Weikel’s invention won the Corps’ 2015 Innovation of the Year Award, in large part because of its cost-saving capabilities over the course of its expected 50-year operation life: nearly $2 million in energy-use reduction with the implementation of ground source geothermal heating and cooling, and about $272,000 by accurately estimating the size these heating and cooling systems need to be, according to Weikel. Additionally, if the testing system were implemented across the Department of Defense on energy-conservation improvement projects, it could save $500 million through reductions of capital costs and energy use. “I’m really happy that working with the Corps has allowed me the opportunity to do this and that I’ve had the support of my leadership,” Weikel said. “They’ve had the confidence I can do it, and they’ve been supportive every step of the way.” CO N T I N U E D





CAREERS Amanda Andraschko, a tribal liaison with the Alaska District in Anchorage, Alaska, works with the nation’s largest number of federally recognized tribes.


“With the large number of tribes and Corps projects throughout the state, it is important ... that we listen to the concerns of tribes.” — Amanda Andraschko


Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska


LASKA IS HOME TO 40 percent of the country’s federally recognized Native tribes, and as the sole tribal liaison for the Alaska District, Amanda Andraschko works with all 229 of them, building relationships between federal and tribal governments. In her role, Andraschko focuses on fostering trust and respect. Because the number of projects the Corps is working on with local governments is so varied, Andraschko helps the Corps understand where Alaska Natives reside and how any proposed projects might affect them and their resources. If the Corps, for example, were working with a city government to build a small-boat harbor, Andraschko would facilitate communication between federal and tribal governments to determine whether resources, such as fish

or wild game, or cultural sites might be affected. “With the large number of tribes and Corps projects throughout the state, it is important that all of us have an understanding of our government-to-government responsibilities to tribes, that we listen to the concerns of tribes, and we take those concerns into consideration during our decision-making process,” she said. She also works with environmental cleanup missions, including Formerly Used Defense Sites and Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation Program. Andraschko, 40, has been the district’s tribal liaison since 2008. She was born and raised in Alaska, but during seventh grade, her family relocated to Hawaii for a year. “I was definitely a cultural minority in the school system there, and I feel like that opened my eyes a lot to cultural communication, cultural differences and seeing the world differently.” These experiences led her to study cultural anthropology, and she earned a master’s degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage while working in specifications for the Alaska District. Today, Andraschko said she’s right where she belongs. “Every day brings new challenges, new projects, new people. I feel very satisfied in my career path, and happy.” CO N T I N U E D






“I grew up in an environment that allowed me to play in the dirt and run around with boys and be comfortable with that. It actually does play a major role in being able to do my job.”

Jennifer Kist, survey technician, lowers the conductivity temperature depth sensor into the water to take measurements that are integral to the creation of seafloor maps.

— Jennifer Kist


Charleston District, Charleston, S.C.


ENNIFER KIST WAS A curious, adventurous kid. During family trips to the beach, she’d spend her time exploring the tidal pools. She collected toads and lizards, and she rarely sat still. Now, at 26, Kist uses that inquisitive nature and love of science in her job as a survey technician in the Charleston District. She’s one of only seven female survey technicians of 109 in the entire Corps. “I grew up in an environment that allowed me to play in the dirt and run around with boys and be comfortable with that,” she said. “It actually does play a major role in being able to do my job.” Kist graduated from the College of Charleston, where she earned dual degrees in marine biology and geology. After working for the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Norfolk, Va., she returned to Charleston to start working for the Corps in March 2015. Her main focus now is the Charleston Harbor Post 45

Deepening Project, which includes the dredging and deepening of the harbor’s federal channel from 45 to 52 feet so container ships and other deeper-draft vessels can navigate it safely. Kist and her team survey the harbor with multi-beam sonar that detects the bottom and any obstacles the dredgers might encounter as they work. She’s also taken it upon herself to create sonargenerated images of local waterways to share on the district’s social media in order to engage the Charleston community. “When a bridge is being built, (the public) can see a bridge is being built, but we’re dredging stuff underwater where they can’t see it,” she said. For Kist, the Corps has been the perfect fit. “I never am bored, and there’s always something to do, which I like,” she said. “The Corps is really, really good at facilitating my tirelessness of doing all sorts of projects and researching things I like to do.”






RECREATION Volunteers at the John H. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir in Boydton, Va., help to ensure that park visitors enjoy a relaxing and safe stay.

HELPING HANDS Volunteers keep recreation sites running smoothly By Mary Helen Berg


ORI AND E.J. HORNICK couldn’t get enough of the roller-coaster bike trails above Raystown Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains. So they asked to volunteer at the park, an arrangement that allowed them to camp free all summer and ride miles of trails right outside their RV door. Now, when they aren’t biking the trails, they’re working them, keeping them clear for

other fans of the wooded paths. Lori, 63, a retired accounting manager and E.J., 65, a former highway maintenance supervisor, are part of a battalion of 41,500 volunteers who clocked 1.5 million hours of service at Corps recreation sites in 2015, according to Heather Burke, USACE National Partnership Program manager. Last year, the Corps honored the Hornicks CO N T I N U E D








. HO




E .J



E.J. and Lori Hornick clocked more than 1,000 hours of volunteer service at Raystown Lake in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains. Steve Purcell, below, has helped to grow and plant thousands of trees at the Lower Granite Dam project in Washington.



“The main thing we look for is someone who’s enthusiastic, who wants to expand their skills, feel a sense of community and a sense of team and that they are part of the Army Corps of Engineers and the mission behind that.” — Park ranger Alicia Palmer, Raystown Lake

for more than 1,000 hours of service. In addition to maintaining their beloved bike trails, the couple revamped the visitor center gardens where erosion and invasive plants had created an eyesore. They planted hundreds of native plants and arranged 16 tons of river rock to create a “rain garden” that captures water runoff and provides a native habitat for pollinating insects, birds and wildlife. The Corps introduced the National Volunteer Awards in 2014 to recognize and encourage volunteerism, Burke said. But the Hornicks don’t volunteer with the Corps to win awards.

“I get a kick out of people responding to what we do with enthusiasm,” E.J. said. “There’s a lot of negativity in the world these days so if you can find yourself a little world where the things you do really do matter to people you don’t even know, I think that’s the real satisfaction of it.” Army Corps volunteers serve 370 million visitors who camp, boat, hike, fish, swim and otherwise romp at 4,248 recreation sites. They sell park passes, build bat houses, count eagles, lead nature hikes and perform dozens of other tasks. Many volunteers are retired but anyone can help

the Corps with projects that range from a single day of shore cleanup to a full season as a camp host. Working more than 20 hours a week earns volunteers a free campsite or a stay in “volunteer villages,” designated areas where volunteers camp together as a community. Across the country, volunteers like Steve Purcell of Clarkston, Wash., help the Army Corps enhance and manage 12 million acres of land and 55,390 miles of waterfront. Purcell, the 2015 regional award winner from the Northwest Division, estimates he’s planted tens of thousands of trees and shrubs along the banks of the Snake River at the Lower Granite Dam project in Washington. His backyard is a makeshift nursery for the project where more than 12,000 seedlings and potted plants compete with the orderly garden kept by his wife, Mary Lea. Bitter cherry, alder and hawthorn trees he planted years ago now provide nesting for hawks and eagles and offer shade to threatened steelhead salmon, Purcell said. CO N T I N U E D













Juanita Souther began her Corps career as a volunteer in 2004. Today, she’s a park ranger at John H. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir in Boydton, Va.






When thick brush and fallen trees blocked Hugh Clark’s kayak trip down the Shenango River Lake, he collected donations and helped clear the waterway to create the Shenango River Water Trail.

“When I started, I told the Corps I’d do this till my health gives out,” recalled Purcell, a 60-year-old data analyst. “That was 25 years ago.” Volunteers fill needs left by dwindling federal funds, said Alicia Palmer, a park ranger at Raystown Lake. The 2017 federal budget sets aside $267 million for Army Corps recreation projects, a slight increase from 2016. Work by volunteers saves the government about $33 million each year, according to Corps data. “If we can reduce a line item by having one of our volunteers clean our picnic shelters instead of having it under our janitorial contract, then our janitorial contract will be reduced and we can use those monetary funds elsewhere,” Palmer explained. “The main thing we look for is someone who’s enthusiastic, who wants to expand their skills, feel a sense of community and a sense of team and that they are part of the Army Corps of Engineers and the mission behind that.” Juanita Souther, a park ranger and environmental educator at John H. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir in Boydton, Va., began her Corps career as a volunteer swim teacher in 2004. She now relies on more than a dozen volunteers each summer to run the education

center, teach visitors about medicinal plants and perform computer tasks and other duties. “Without them, oh my God, I would be running myself ragged. Totally ragged,” Souther said. Hugh Clark realized that the Corps needed help when he tried to kayak Shenango River Lake in the Corps’ Pittsburgh District and found fallen trees and thick brush blocked his way. Clark, of Hartstown, Pa., pieced together $200,000 in donations and coordinated more than 100 stakeholders over eight years to clear the waterway and create the Shenango River Water Trail. The Corps recognized Clark’s countless hours of service with the 2015 National Volunteer award. Now, paddlers come from hundreds of miles away to float the Shenango River trail, and Clark, 72, calls the project one of the great achievements of his life. “I had a good professional career and raised a family and all the good stuff like that, but I sort of looked back on it and thought you know, I’ve never really done anything of consequence,” Clark said. “I just felt like the capstone of my life in that sense was missing and this allowed me to do it. And I guess that’s the gratification that I personally get from this.”



LEAD NATURE WALKS For information on how to become a volunteer, check out the Army Corps Volunteer Clearinghouse ( volunteer) or contact your local park ranger.








GILE AND COMPACT, THE Trimble UX5, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is engineered to help mapping and surveying professionals quickly obtain aerial imagery and respond to emergency needs. It’s no surprise that several district and engineering labs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are increasingly using UAVs to capture both aerial imagery for mapping and inspection and real-time video. The Huntington District in West Virginia uses the Trimble UX5 to build maps, monitor permits, inspect levees, dams and roofs, and even monitor archaeological sites. Mac McCarty, land surveyor at the Huntington District, cited the Trimble’s built-in safety features, including a 30-degree catapult launch, which helps to quickly thrust the Trimble into the air, and its inflight avoidance procedures, which help it avoid flying wildlife. But what might be most impressive is the Trimble UX5’s camera — a large imaging sensor that captures very sharp, color-rich images even in dark or cloudy conditions and allows for quick feedback when time is of the essence. “Almost monthly we discover a new use for the technology,” said McCarty. “The quality of the imagery and the accuracy of the final product has just been amazing.”

A Corps employee launches the Trimble UX5 during a test flight near R.C. Byrd Locks and Dam, Gallipolis Ferry, W.Va. TRIMBLE NAVIGATION LIMITED; USACE


uRoof damage inspection in West Virginia

uFish hatchery in Gallipolis Ferry, W.Va.

uHydraulic dredging operation on the Ohio River