Amistad Dam safety modification study provides learning opportunity

Posted in: Military, Water


amistad-300x234pxFor the past six months, we have been assisting Tulsa District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a dam safety modification study of Amistad Dam on the Rio Grande River. It’s been an interesting project from a number of aspects, not the least of which is working within the USACE Dam Safety Program.

Amistad Dam is owned and operated by the International Boundary and Water Commission, an international body created by the United States and Mexico in 1889. The U.S. section is administered by the Department of State; the Mexican part by the Secretariat of Foreign Relations. Tulsa District provides engineering support for the IBWC.

In my previous life as a U.S. Army Engineer Officer, I attended USACE Risk Management Training in Portland in 2009, where I received my introduction to the USACE risk informed dam safety program. Since then the program has transitioned considerably from testing new policies, procedures and organizations to a fully implemented program with a Risk Management Center in Denver, Colorado; a Dam Safety Modification Mandatory Center of Expertise in Huntington, West Virginia; Regional Dam Safety Production Centers; and the Modeling, Mapping and Consequence Center.

The USACE Dam Safety Program includes:

  • Dam inspections (annual and periodic)
  • The Dam Safety Classification System to provide consistent and systematic guidelines for appropriate actions to address dam safety issues and deficiencies
  • Risk Assessment and Risk Management

USACE uses both routine and non-routine activities to make risk management decisions. Routine activities include monitoring of instrumentation, inspections and assessments. Non-routine activities include issue evaluation studies, interim risk reduction measures and dam safety modification studies. All studies and modifications require an Independent External Peer Review. Most also involve the use of a panel of experts to identify and analyze potential failure modes and risks and then help identify and recommend a risk management plan that supports the cost effective reduction of risk.

In the case of the Amistad Dam Safety Modification Study, we provided a geotechnical consultant who is an expert on dams founded on Karst and permeable alluvial soils, to work with the USACE expert panel member, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation panel member and panel members from the Mexican Section of the international Boundary and Water Commission.

Our work to date has involved numerous meetings in the United States and Mexico, alternatives formulation and analysis, risk elicitation and assistance drafting the Amistad DSMS. In the process, we have learned much about the USACE Dam Safety Program and about Risk Informed Decision Making.


Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

About the Author

Miro Kurka, PE, PMP, knows water is an incredible resource. “I help resolve issues that prevent us from engineering water infrastructure that would make our citizens safer, wealthier and happier.” A retired US Army officer, he managed the Corps of Engineers’ program in Tulsa, Portland and Afghanistan for 30 years, bridging gaps, overcoming obstacles and tackling large challenges. He loves traveling and meeting people.

Read more posts by Miro Kurka, PE, PMP

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