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As Hurricane Irene approaches U.S. Northeast: Engineers to monitor rainfall, tidal surge to regulate Corps-managed projects to minimize area impacts

Published Aug. 24, 2011

CONCORD, Mass. – With Hurricane Irene threatening the U.S. Southeast and likely to bring heavy rainfall to the U.S. Northeast within about a week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in New England is preparing its dams and hurricane protection projects and staffs to be ready.


Hydraulic engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers monitor water levels in the region’s major rivers to regulate Corps of Engineers-managed dams to minimize downstream impacts from the New England District headquarters in Concord, Mass. They also monitor coastal storm activity and storm surge in the operation of three hurricane barriers to reduce area tidal flooding – the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier in New Bedford, Mass., the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier in Providence, R.I., and the Stamford Hurricane Barrier in Stamford, Conn.


“The engineers in our Reservoir Control Center are especially busy now monitoring the potential paths of Hurricane Irene, coordinating activities with the National Weather Service, and coordinating with our field personnel across New England in preparation of the storm,” said Paul Marinelli, chief of the Corps of Engineers, New England District Reservoir Regulation Section. “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.”


New England District uses the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES), known as GOES East or GOES-13, with advanced weather imagery, as its data collection satellite. The District data collection platforms monitor pool, tailwater, river levels, ocean levels, precipitation, and air and water temperature, recording data every 15 minutes. The data collection platforms also monitor piezometer data and record these every four to six hours, depending on the site.


By collecting information about river stages and flows and their increases and decreases from 100 data collection platforms within the Connecticut, Merrimack, Thames, Housatonic and Blackstone river basins, the hydrologists can effectively regulate the Corps of Engineers-managed 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 real-time hydrologic data, and exchange of information with the National Weather Service’s Northeast River Forecast Center, significant water movement can be identified, examined and predicted.


Engineers also monitor storm surge and tidal activity to determine if and when the hurricane barriers under Corps management should be operated.                                               

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has designed a system of flood risk management projects which includes 35 flood risk management dams, 112 local protection projects, and five hurricane barriers in New England. A total of 31 of 35 reservoir projects, and three of five hurricane barriers are operated and maintained by the Corps, while the remaining projects are operated and maintained by local interests.


Cumulative flood reduction damages prevented by all projects, including local protection projects, since their construction through Sept. 30, 2010 are more than $5.2 billion.


Streamflow and other project/reservoir data are available online at the Corps’ New England District website at Select New England District River Watch Section under “hot topics” or go directly to the link at:

Tim Dugan

Release no. 2011-078