Dams, like all infrastructure, are typically unique designs that balance the intended use of the structure with the local geology, hydrology and state-of-the-practice. Further, dams are generally expected to function for a long period of time, often 100-years or more. Concrete structures, spillway and drain pipes, valves and gates, embankment surfaces, will deteriorate and usually require repairs at some point during a dam's design life.
When considering construction of a new dam or repairs to an existing dam, it is essential to hire a professional engineer licensed in the State of Maryland, with a background in civil engineering and who is competent in the field of dam safety. This not only ensures that the construction or repair design will be in accordance with sound engineering practice, but also is required by Maryland regulations.
The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) is a national non-profit organization devoted to increasing public awareness of the importance of dam safety through educational resources and support for the state dam safety programs. ASDSO provides an abundance of resources for dam owners through publications, educational video series and workshops and offers the following recommendations when looking for an engineer:
- A licensed professional engineer registered in the State of Maryland
- A minimum of 10 years experience in dam design and construction
- A knowledge of the regulations governing dam design and construction in Maryland
- Specific experience in the problem area, e.g., hydrology, hydraulics, structural, or geotechnical engineering
ASDSO has also prepared a fact sheet
related to procuring the services of a professional engineer.
Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) is a widely recommended process for selecting the most qualified engineer for your project at a reasonable and fair price. This process allows for mutual development of a final scope of work and cost, rather than relying on the owner to develop the full scope of work at the project outset. QBS can often reduce the risk to the owner for scope and cost changes, promotes innovation, and ensures that the mission of protecting the public safety is not secondary to low-cost. The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC/ Maryland) has resources available
to assist owners through the selection process.
It is equally important when starting this process to provide the prospective engineer with as much information about your dam as possible. This would include the any inspection reports outlining the nature and severity of any identified deficiencies, plans and specifications, any investigative studies that may have been done in the past and any deadlines that may exist.
Questions to Ask an Engineer
1. Is the staff person to be assigned to this project a licensed professional engineer in the State of Maryland?
Yes. Most activities related to dam safety inspections require the services of a licensed professional engineer.If a dam owner is proven to be negligent, liability will be significant.
2. Have members of your staff attended any of the MDE sponsored dam safety workshops? If so which workshops?
Yes. Most have not had specific titles, but are applicable to inspection and design. Recent workshops have addressed multiple technical and non-technical topics. In addition, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) offers many technical seminars each year.
3. How are your fees developed?
4. Do you carry professional liability insurance?
Whether this is critical depends on several factors, including the dam's hazard potential rating.
5. Do you belong to any professional organizations?
- Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO)
- American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
Both of these organizations are dedicated to continuing and enhancing the technical expertise of its members.
6. What do you know about a dam owners legal liability?
While this is a particularly broad subject, these principles are of particular importance to a dam owner:
- There is liability inherent to the impoundment of water.
- If a dam owner is proven to be negligent, liability will be significant.
- In the event of a dam failure during a flood, the dam owner is generally only liable for incremental damages caused by the additional water released from the impoundment by the failure. The dam owner is generally not responsible for damages caused by the flood itself. The principal exception to this rule is where a dam is designed and intended to be used for flood protection.
7. Describe your experience or training in the following areas related to dam safety:
- Hydrology & Hydraulics
All of these are important factors to consider in evaluating the safety and operation of a dam.
8. Will all the proposed services be performed by members of your company's staff, or will parts of it be subcontracted?
Subcontracting is not inherently a problem, but delays in completion of service may occur unless tight control of timing is written into contract language.
Questions for Dam Inspections
1. Have you or members of your staff conducted dam safety inspections per the requirements of MDE in the past? If yes, how many?
2. Will the staff person conducting the field inspection be a licensed professional engineer in the state of Maryland?
Yes is the best answer, but some firms may have unlicensed staff conduct the field inspection, with a licensed engineer signing the report. This is not illegal, but this is not a preferred practice unless the unlicensed inspector is an engineer very knowledgeable about dam safety.
3. Please provide references from past dam inspections.
Contact the references and find out if they were satisfied with the services rendered. If the references are not satisfied, find out why. Sometimes, the problem is the result of a misunderstanding in the terms of the contract which may be as much the client's fault as the engineer's.
4. What are your areas of specialty?
- Hydrology & Hydraulics
Keep in mind that not all of these areas of expertise are necessary for all dams.
5. What turnaround time can you provide on an inspection report?
Be sure that the inspection and final report can be completed in the needed time frame.
Questions for Dam Design Work (New Construction or Repair Work)
1. Are you familiar with the MDE permitting process for projects involving dams?
2. Have you done dam design, repair, construction, or removal projects in similar size, scope, hazard classification in the past? If so, please provide references for this work.
3. Have you had any advanced training on areas related to dam design or repair? If so, please list training.
4. Are you familiar with the MDE Guidance on Dam Break Analysis and Hazard Classification?
For more information, you may call us at (410) 537-3552 or reach us at our mailing address:
Dam Safety Program
Water and Science Administration
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Boulevard, Ste. 440
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-1708