University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Practicum Deals with the Critical Science And Engineering of Dam Removal

David Ahlfeld

David Ahlfeld

Professor David Ahlfeld, the Associate Department Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), is involved in a three-credit independent study practicum that is exposing  five CEE students and five students from the UMass Department of Environmental Conservation (Eco) to some of the technical and policy details of dam removal. This is a two-semester effort to involve the students directly in the dam removal process. Ahlfeld is team-teaching the course with ECo faculty member Allison Roy and Kristopher M. Houle, P.E., the Ecological Restoration Specialist at the Division of Ecological Restoration (DER) in the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game.

Dr. Ahlfeld works with three labs: the Groundwater Management Group; the Water Resources, Climate, and Society Group; and the Fish Passage Engineering. He also teaches in the Program Area of Environmental and Water Resources.

As Ahlfeld says about the significance of this practicum, “Dam removal is increasing nationwide as a means to address safety concerns of deteriorating dams and promote ecological integrity. However, dam removal is extremely complex and requires extensive planning, permitting, and logistical legwork.”

The course is run in conjunction with the Massachusetts DER, the leading state agency involved with assisting dam owners with dam removal, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), among others. Over the next two years, DER will assist in planning or removal of at least 10 dams.

“This independent study allows up to 10 students in engineering and environmental conservation to better understand the dam removal process and careers in the river restoration field by participating in the technical teams for selected projects,” explains Ahlfeld.

Various technical teams include staff from the DER, the USFWS, non-profit organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and American Rivers, and assorted consulting engineers.

Ahlfeld says that “Each student will be assigned to three technical teams and will participate in site visits, team meetings and calls, and review of technical products (e.g., hydrologic and hydraulic models, sediment testing data, scopes of work, and engineering plans) with each of these teams. DER staff will meet periodically with students to provide training on each step of the dam removal process.”

Students will participate over the course of two semesters and develop their own independent projects. Assignments include reports on meetings attended and detailed papers related to their respective independent projects. (January 2016)