Army Engineers Monitor Water, Snow Levels to Regulate Corps Dams to Minimize Downstream Impacts

Hydraulic engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are monitoring the water levels in the region's major rivers and the depth of snow cover throughout the region to regulate Corps dams and to minimize downstream impacts from the New England District headquarters in Concord, Mass.

"The engineers in our Reservoir Control Center are especially busy now receiving reports from our field personnel on the water content and depths of snow on the ground across New England," said Paul Marinelli, chief of the Corps of Engineers Reservoir Control Center. "We also are receiving frequent data from our 'eye in the sky' on the levels and flow of water in major rivers -- the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)."

New England District has been using GOES-08 (also known as GOES east), launched in April 1994 with advanced weather imagery, as its data collection satellite. The District data collection platforms monitor pool, tailwater and river levels, rainfall and air temperature, recording data every 15 minutes.

By collecting information about river stages and flows and their increases and decreases from 90 data collection platforms over time, the hydrologists can effectively regulate the Corps dams to minimize impacts downstream. "This system assists us in deciding when to close or throttle back water flow through our network of 35 dams to provide the maximum flood damage prevention benefits to downstream areas," Marinelli said.

Through the use of logs and computer charts and close coordination with the National Weather Service's River Forecast Center, significant water movement can be identified, examined and predicted. Each winter, the Army engineers compile biweekly summaries of snow depths and their water equivalents from 93 key locations with the Connecticut, Merrimack, Thames, Housatonic and Blackstone river basins. With the information, engineers make calculations to determine snow density and comparisons are then made to averages based on over more than three decades of such readings.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has designed a system of flood damage prevention projects which includes 35 flood control dams, 100 local protection projects and five hurricane barriers in New England. A total of 31 of 35 reservoir projects and two of five hurricane barriers are operated and maintained by the Corps, while the remaining projects are operated and maintained by local interests.

Cumulative flood control damages prevented for all projects through Sept. 30, 2002, are more than $2.89 billon. New England District operates and maintains 10 of 31 reservoirs for flood control only. Another 17 are operated primarily for flood control, and seasonally for recreational activities. The remaining four reservoirs are operated as multipurpose projects, including flood control, water supply, recreation, non-Federal hydropower and fishery storage.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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