Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues.  Our student Amanda Peterson makes this connection here…

The article “DamWatch: New Monitoring Technology for Dam Safety” was published in HydroReview magazine on March 1, 2013 and is about a software system for dam monitoring called DamWatch.  The content of the article describes how this new software addresses the need for a nation-wide database with real-time precipitation data for regional watersheds which will also evaluate how dams in those watersheds may be impacted.  DamWatch was designed by USEngineering Solutions Corp of Hartford, CT in conjunction with the Oklahoma Natural Resources Conservation Service and Oklahoma Conservation Commission.  DamWatch is a 24/7 accessible web-based software that is linked to real-time precipitation and seismic data from sources such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Services, and U.S Geological Survey.  The DamWatch program uses GIS technology to display a dam’s location and drainage area (Figure 1), and stores pertinent data for dams such as emergency action plans, as-build drawings, and breach inundation maps.  The system compares the real-time precipitation data with site-specific thresholds of each dam’s capacity and alerts staff of potential spillway flows at dams during critical events, so that staff are sent to areas of highest concern.  Figure 2 shows the DamWatch user interface which allows users to search for particular dam sites.  DamWatch was originally designed to monitor watershed dams, which are typically designed to provide flood control, water supply and grade stabilization. Most of these dams are on private lands that are under easements with local conservation district sponsors, and the sponsors are responsible for operation and maintenance of the dams.  In most cases sponsors have non-technical personnel in charge of the operation and maintenance of the dams, who refer to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for technical assistance.  As of April 1, 2013 DamWatch was to be implemented for national use across 47 states and one US territory.  In preparation for this the system has been expanded to service dams of all sizes and functions.  The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) confirms that DamWatch is an effective tool which will enable the Inland Water Resources Division to track movements of storms during potentially catastrophic events and evaluate the hydraulic capabilities of dams to discharge the anticipated flows.  Limitations to this program include the fact that it does not address storage at reservoirs which may be able to provide additional retention at the time of a storm.  Also, it is not able to adapt to situations where precipitation occurs over several days.  As noted by Wurbs and James in “Water Resources Engineering,” 2006, large-scale, slow rising floods can result from rain that occurs over a period of weeks.  Another contributing factor which was not included in the article is the contribution of snow melt to discharge values, which has the potential to create disastrous flood events.


In regard to hydrology the Water Resources issue is the availability of real-time rainfall and stream flow data, as well as site-specific data such as dam inspection reports, as-built drawings and Emergency Action Plans.  Since the Operations and Maintenance individuals located at these watershed dams may not be technical personnel, they will turn to water resources engineers to guide them if a significant flood event does occur.  Considering the hydraulics aspects, the information stored in DamWatch allows a comparison of the capacity of a dam or spillway against the anticipated flow based on recent rainfall.  Alerts are sent to users to notify them when a structure is nearing its maximum capacity.


Overall this topic has a societal context in that it enables dam operators to know which facilities are in danger of possible failure, and implement the appropriate steps if people downstream need to be evacuated.  As noted in the Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation Dam Safety Program (2010), lives can be lost in any extra time which may be used to determine if a dam is in a critical state and what actions need to be taken.  The DamWatch program also has economic value in that dams which receive the highest rainfall in a drainage basin can be focused on first for inspections and repairs, allowing a more efficient and cost-effective use of resources in regard to personnel and funds for rehabilitation.

In conclusion the DamWatch system is an important tool to access hydraulic and hydrologic information pertinent to a particular dam site, and in the event of significant rainfall events water resources engineers need to be able to understand the data collected and how it affects downstream conditions to advise O&M personnel on the best course of action.


Caldwell, Larry W., Joseph P. Scannell and Noller Herbert. DamWatch: New Monitoring Technology for Dam Safety.” March 1, 2013.  HydroReview Magazine, March 2013.  http://www.hydroworld.com/articles/hr/print/volume-32/issue-2/articles/damwatch–new-monitoring-technology-for-dam-safety.html

Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection. “DamWatch Monitoring Software Application for DEEP-owned Dams.” March 15, 2012.  http://www.ct.gov/deep/cwp/view.asp?A=2720&Q=400624

Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation. “Dam Safety Program Simplified Evacuation Mapping for Emergency Action Planning.” August 2010.

Wurbs, R.A., James, W.P., 2002. Water Resources Engineering. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ.