NRCS DamWatch press release

Earthen dam

New DamWatch Tool Monitors Dams, Keeps Communities Safe

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the availability of DamWatch®, a new web-based application that provides real-time monitoring of rainfall, snowmelt, stream flow and seismic events that could pose potential threats to dam safety.

“We’re using the newest tools and technologies to our advantage,” Vilsack said. “This tool provides a ‘one-stop’ source for accessing critical documents, databases, onsite electronic monitoring devices and geospatial information. The intent is to help keep the public safe and protect infrastructure.”

Through a secure interactive web interface, DamWatch® will help watershed project sponsors monitor and manage dams that were built with assistance from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  By monitoring these structures, project sponsors – which in Nebraska are typically Natural Resources Districts – can better prevent and protect against hazardous, costly and potentially catastrophic events.

Tim Haakenstad, state engineer with NRCS in Nebraska says, “The DamWatch® alert system will be an excellent tool for Natural Recourse Districts (NRD) to prioritize post rainfall event inspections of dams.  DamWatch® also can be accessed by the NRDs to provide valuable information about the structure such as previous site inspection records, “as built” plans and photos of the dam.  During a disaster event, pinpointing areas of highest potential for damage is critical to get people and resources where they are needed quickly and DamWatch® will help NRDs and others get this done.”

DamWatch® offers project sponsors an effective way to manage watershed projects. It alerts personnel via email, fax or text message when dams experience one or more potentially hazardous conditions, resulting in the coordinated deployment of personnel and resources at the right time and place. Although NRCS personnel may elect to receive DamWatch® alerts, the project sponsor is responsible for monitoring the dams and notifying authorities during an emergency. NRCS may be available to assist the project sponsor at the sponsor’s request.

During record rainfalls last month in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and other parts of the central plains, nearly 1,000 DamWatch alerts helped NRCS personnel focus their response efforts. NRCS personnel assisted project sponsors in reviewing the condition of hundreds of dams throughout the region.

In Nebraska, 735 structures are being monitored by DamWatch®. When a large amount of rainfall occurs in an area where these structures occur, DamWatch® triggers an alert that is sent to the local sponsor and NRCS staff. The information contained in the DamWatch® alert will help local officials determine what action to take in monitoring and maintaining the structure.

According to NRCS, it is important these watershed structures continue being maintained. These structures benefit over 1.6 million acres in Nebraska. Benefits include significant savings in soil erosion, water conservation, road and bridge damage reduction, wetland/upland wildlife habitat creation and most importantly, saved lives and property. The total benefits to Nebraska exceed $37 million each year, according to NRCS.

DamWatch®, which was developed for NRCS by USEngineering Solutions Corporation, is currently monitoring nearly 12,000 dams across the country. For more information about the watershed program click here or visit a local USDA service center.

Joanna Pope

See the original article