At Philpott Dam in Bassett, Virginia, USACE’s inspectors stated that overall, Philpott Dam is in good condition and continues to generate electricity and provide flood protection. Every year, teams of highly trained structural, mechanical and civil engineers along with geologists thoroughly inspect all five dams that are operated and maintained by the Wilmington District under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Dam Safety Program. Dams are part of the nation’s landscape, and are integral to many communities and critical to watershed management. Dam safety professionals carry out a dam safety program specific to the Wilmington District to make sure these projects deliver their intended benefits while reducing risks to people, property and the environment through continuous assessment, communication and management.
“During the inspection process, each team member focuses on those areas related to his or her expertise,” said dam inspection team leader Walt Haven. “As a result, our team looks for various aging and safety factors related to the dam, such as cracking within the dam concrete, the functioning of lift gates for water flow and electrical turbine operation, the condition of electrical equipment, and the potential for landslides and other erosion issues along the hill slopes adjoining the dam.”
Additionally, Haven said team members work closely with the on-site, permanent dam "caretaker" staff during these inspections. These technicians work inside the dam and powerhouse every day and accompany them during inspections to point out any concerns that they might have.
“Any dam management project is a long-term commitment,” Haven said. “Overall, Philpott Dam was well-constructed using the best building technology available at the time. A regular regimen of inspections and communication between our office and the on-site technicians is key to identifying, monitoring, and resolving any discrepancies. Some discrepancies can be easily fixed, such as adding construction shoring to stabilize a doorway. Other matters require greater time, cost, and labor, such as installing through-dam anchoring devices to mitigate aging and resultant cement fracturing. Finally, some discrepancies might simply involve future monitoring, such as a small soil slide along a stream valley slope, which is near the dam.”
For the team members, inspecting a dam like Philpott is a chance to get back to their engineering or geology roots. They take pride in their work and believe that building, managing, and protecting the nation's infrastructure is one of the many things that USACE does best.
“As a result, each team member enjoys this sort of fieldwork and recognizes that performing inspections provides an important service to nation and its citizens,” said Haven.