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We're Not Building Space Stations: The Future of Geology in the Dam Business
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Dams are typically constructed of earth and/or concrete. Regardless of what dams are composed of, they are always constructed upon earthen materials: sometimes soil, most commonly rock.

For the part we build, i.e., the dam, we get to specify the materials to be used, how those materials will be configured, and the criteria for construction. However, for the foundation and abutments, dam engineers must use and rely upon whatever natural materials are present, and it is critical that we characterize and understand these in situ natural materials for design, construction, and dam safety performance. Therefore, thorough characterization of the geology at a project site by experienced and knowledgeable engineering geologists is nearly always a critical element of dam engineering and dam safety assessments.

Unfortunately, the future of geology in dam engineering and dam safety is uncertain. Engineering geologists and geological engineers currently represent a relatively small minority of practitioners in the dams business. The number of future practitioners entering engineering geology and geological engineering is declining. And unlike geotechnical, hydraulic, and structural engineering, the number of university programs dedicated to engineering geology is declining; many such programs in the United States have been terminated, with relatively few still remaining.

Regardless of any advances that occur in dam engineering and dam safety, understanding the geology at dam sites will remain a critical need. Yet, the training and development of practitioners to fulfill this critical need is in decline. How can we as an industry curb this trend and invest in the future of dam engineering and dam safety through development of geologic understanding and capability as it applies to dams? This paper discusses possible actions to address this critical need for the dams industry.

Publication Summary

  • Geosyntec Authors: Derek Morley
  • All Authors: Kerry Cato (CSUSB), Derek Morley
  • Title: United States Society on Dams (USSD) 2022 Annual Conference and Exhibition
  • Event or Publication: Event
  • Practice Areas: Dams, Dam Safety
  • Citation: United States Society on Dams (USSD) 2022 Annual Conference and Exhibition at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, California on April 11 through 14, 2022.
  • Date: Wednesday, April 13 at 2:30 p.m. PDT
  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Publication Type: Platform Presentation