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Retention of institutional knowledge and technical capacity for repair and rehabilitation of NRCS-assisted watershed dams

Freeland, Joe D, Caldwell, Larry W, Hunt, Sherry, Locke, Mark A, Moore, James
Proceedings of the 12th National Watershed Conference 2011 pp. 14
Natural Resources Conservation Service, communication (human), dams (hydrology), demographic statistics, durability, federal government, information retrieval, infrastructure, innovation adoption, labor force, maintenance and repair, safety standards, seepage, technology transfer, uncertainty, watersheds, United States
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) along with project sponsors have constructed more than 11,000 dams across the U.S. The peak of construction was in the 1960's with the dams primarily designed with a 50 year planned service life. Over the next two decades, an average of one dam a day will reach the end of its planned service life. The age of the infrastructure creates challenges in their maintenance and rehabilitation. Physical problems including seepage, sedimentation, and structural deterioration exist for some dams, while others no longer meet dam safety standards because of changes in their demographics with increased populations upstream and downstream of the structures. Technical and financial assistance is provided by the federal government to project sponsors and dam owners, but retirements of the federal workforce places this assistance in jeopardy. Retirements are also fast approaching for project sponsors. The trends seen in the federal workforce and project sponsors, and the uncertainty of the direction of future administrations, make it imperative to focus on ways to equip future generations with adequate ways to address the needs of these aging dams. Questions like how do we transfer this engineering and project knowledge to a workforce that didn't exist during the dam building boom of the last 60 years or what information, expertise, technology, and communication methods are future generations going to need? Who are they going to rely on for answers? How will the records and technical materials associated with these dams be archived so that they are readily available? The objective of this paper is to discuss these questions and other challenges that will be faced by future generations in addressing the rehabilitation of aging dams.