Extending the life of the Corps’ aging infrastructure

Posted in: Energy, Infrastructure, Water


same-workshop-325pxLast month I participated in a workshop focused on extending the life of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ aging infrastructure.

This Society of American Military Engineers post-level workshop brought together private section sustaining members, SAME Fellows and government agencies to collaborate and resolve issues at the grass roots level. The intent is to implement solutions locally and report the impact of those solutions.

The workshop included three presentations and a moderated panel discussion on a variety of infrastructure issues and potential solutions. The panel members included two engineer leaders from the USACE Tulsa District and three senior engineer leaders from private industry – one of whom is a SAME Fellow.

Infrastructure presentations

I began the panel by providing a presentation on the issue of aging infrastructure. The USACE infrastructure assets are valued at more than $200 billion. By infrastructure, I am referencing 610 dams, 1,000 coastal structures, 250 navigation locks, 75 hydroelectric plants and countless recreation areas and restored ecosystems. Most of these are more than 50 years old, meaning the USACE must either recapitalize, repurpose or divest itself of them.

Bringing the issue closer to home, I noted that Tulsa District had 38 multipurpose operating projects, including 38 flood control dams, eight hydroelectric plants, five navigation locks and 18 lakes that provide water to 2.2 million people.  Most of these projects are well over 40 years old.

Dan Keithline of Keithline Engineering then presented the Waurika Lake Water Intake Channel Maintenance project case study. This project used innovative engineering and multiple funding sources to restore and improve a water supply intake that is a critical source for the local community.

Lastly, Chris Strunk, Tulsa District, on the District’s program to maintain their hydraulic steel structures – gates and bulkheads. The Tulsa District has more than 2,000 HSS components with stringent tracking and inspection requirements. The task of maintaining these HSS as well as the district’s 1,528 buildings and 48 bridges is monumental.

Questions to address going forward

Following these presentations, the panel addressed questions including:

  • What are the most effective and proactive actions to extend the life of aging water resource facility?
  • How do we manage available budget dollars to maintain the original mission of an aging facility?
  • What processes and tools are available to perform risk-based prioritization of infrastructure requirements?
  • What measures can be taken and/or have been taken to inform and educate leaders, decision makers and other stakeholders about the aging infrastructure?
  • Is there a “solutions library”?
  • Is there a long term vision for replacement of infrastructure?
  • What innovative funding mechanisms could be used to finance infrastructure: public private partnerships (P3), dedicated trusts, etc.?

Conclusions

Funding is the top issue. Even though funding increases with inflation, it is still based off of operating systems and does not take into account upgrades, replacement, rehabilitation, new environmental or ecological requirements, or technological advances that make it impossible to maintain a safe and working infrastructure.

  • Sharing cost with local agencies is a solution (Waurika Lake as one example), but unless the project is at risk of failure or is affecting something as serious as water-supply, there is a sense of low priority for local government.
  • P3 is another alternative if the terms are attractive to the investor, then government can relinquish management and Office of Management and Budget scoring is addressed.

The public and political leaders generally do not understand or appreciate the value of this infrastructure, nor do they understand what efforts and funding are required to maintain it.  Efforts to inform and educate leaders, decision makers and other stakeholders on the aging infrastructure are critical.

Tulsa District has a proprietary database of assets with associated grading system. This is a best practice that should be Corps-wide.


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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