By Richard Brown 

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began construction of Folsom Dam in the early 1950s, the first pocket-sized transistor radio was about to become one of the most popular electronic devices in communication history. In 1960, four years after work was completed on Folsom Dam, a little more than 190,000 people lived downstream of the dam in the City of Sacramento.

Much has changed since the mid-20th century. The transistor radio eventually morphed into the smartphone, and Sacramento has grown to nearly 500,000 people. The greater Sacramento area population is estimated to be more than 1.4 million.

Since its construction, Folsom Dam has proven its worth during a handful of record storms. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation reports that the dam prevented more than $5 billion in flood damage through 2006.

A $900 million Folsom Auxiliary Dam and Spillway Mega-Project was planned prior to Hurricane Katrina.

However, based on improved scientific and technological understanding, and an increased population, it became clear to many that there was a need for something more—a need to provide better flood protection for the region.

In 2005, USACE and the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates Folsom Dam, came together with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the California Department of Water Resources, and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, to put the past 62 years’ worth of dam construction knowledge to work to improve the dam’s safety for the future.

JOINT FEDERAL PROJECT

Plans were drafted, and the $900 million Folsom Auxiliary Dam and Spillway Mega-Project was born. But timing is everything. Just as the new Joint Federal Project (JFP)—the moniker given based on the project’s unique partnership—was getting underway, Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, a city that was thought to have significantly higher flood protection than Sacramento. In fact, Sacramento had a much lower level of flood protection than many notable river cities across the nation, and in the wake of Katrina, many were left wondering which city could be next. Most experts pointed to Sacramento.

Originally, the project was scheduled to be complete in 2022. Katrina accelerated that timeline.

The new auxiliary spillway (center right) at Folsom Reservoir is designed to work in conjunction with the original dam (upper left) to provide increased flood protection for the nearly 1.5 million people in the greater Sacramento area.

Ultimately, the contingent of federal, state, and local partners completed the auxiliary dam and spillway four years ahead of schedule and delivered a savings of more than $400 million off initial project estimates.

BUILDING THE TEAM

While the collaborative team is proud of the many successes behind JFP, leaders with USACE Sacramento District point first and foremost to how the project team came together.
Human resources posed a big challenge early in the design of the project. In the end, employing the collaborative opportunities available to USACE served as one of the greatest lessons learned. In all, 22 USACE offices, four Bureau of Reclamation offices, three State of California agencies, 10 architect-engineer contractors, three prime contractors, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, the National Weather Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service all played a role in getting the project to the finish line.

The JFP leadership assessed the overall needs, created a model, and went nationwide to ask for help—not just within USACE, but to other government agencies, industry firms, and even academia.

But even with the brightest minds gathered from across the country, the challenge remained: how to get them all working together with the same common understanding of the overall mission? Co-location was the answer. Everybody—contracting officers, engineers, counsel, project managers, quality assurance, contractor teams—was all put in the same temporary office space, a combined campus at the construction site.

Having engineering and construction teams co-located with the contractors really streamlined communication. Instead of having to call or email someone and maybe wait a day for a response, people were able to just pop into the trailer next door or lean around the cubicle wall and address the issue immediately.

When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began construction of Folsom Dam in the early 1950s, the first pocket-sized transistor radio was about to become one of the most popular electronic devices in communication history. In 1960, four years after work was completed on Folsom Dam, a little more than 190,000 people lived downstream of the dam in the City of Sacramento.

Much has changed since the mid-20th century. The transistor radio eventually morphed into the smartphone, and Sacramento has grown to nearly 500,000 people. The greater Sacramento area population is estimated to be more than 1.4 million.

Since its construction, Folsom Dam has proven its worth during a handful of record storms. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation reports that the dam prevented more than $5 billion in flood damage through 2006.

However, based on improved scientific and technological understanding, and an increased population, it became clear to many that there was a need for something more—a need to provide better flood protection for the region.

In 2005, USACE and the Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates Folsom Dam, came together with the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, the California Department of Water Resources, and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, to put the past 62 years’ worth of dam construction knowledge to work to improve the dam’s safety for the future.

JOINT FEDERAL PROJECT

Plans were drafted, and the $900 million Folsom Auxiliary Dam and Spillway Mega-Project was born. But timing is everything. Just as the new Joint Federal Project (JFP)—the moniker given based on the project’s unique partnership—was getting underway, Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, a city that was thought to have significantly higher flood protection than Sacramento. In fact, Sacramento had a much lower level of flood protection than many notable river cities across the nation, and in the wake of Katrina, many were left wondering which city could be next. Most experts pointed to Sacramento.

Originally, the project was scheduled to be complete in 2022. Katrina accelerated that timeline.

Ultimately, the contingent of federal, state, and local partners completed the auxiliary dam and spillway four years ahead of schedule and delivered a savings of more than $400 million off initial project estimates.

BUILDING THE TEAM

While the collaborative team is proud of the many successes behind JFP, leaders with USACE Sacramento District point first and foremost to how the project team came together.
Human resources posed a big challenge early in the design of the project. In the end, employing the collaborative opportunities available to USACE served as one of the greatest lessons learned. In all, 22 USACE offices, four Bureau of Reclamation offices, three State of California agencies, 10 architect-engineer contractors, three prime contractors, the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, the National Weather Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service all played a role in getting the project to the finish line.

New spillway after construction

The JFP leadership assessed the overall needs, created a model, and went nationwide to ask for help—not just within USACE, but to other government agencies, industry firms, and even academia.

But even with the brightest minds gathered from across the country, the challenge remained: how to get them all working together with the same common understanding of the overall mission? Co-location was the answer. Everybody—contracting officers, engineers, counsel, project managers, quality assurance, contractor teams—was all put in the same temporary office space, a combined campus at the construction site.

Having engineering and construction teams co-located with the contractors really streamlined communication. Instead of having to call or email someone and maybe wait a day for a response, people were able to just pop into the trailer next door or lean around the cubicle wall and address the issue immediately.

SPACE LIMITATIONS

Challenges existed on the construction site, in terms of the amount of real estate available to support concurrent activities. When the Katrina-influenced decision was made to move Phase IV construction of the spillway’s approach channel, chute and stilling basin up on the schedule, Phase III construction of the control structure was not yet complete. Now, two prime contractors under two separate contracts would have to share a limited workspace already occupied by the Phase III contractor, and both would have to work on their respective phase of construction concurrently rather than subsequently. This requirement was not considered in the original plan. But everybody involved understood that work between the two phases needed to be seamless.

One such solution was to help ease construction traffic from the concrete, aggregate and cement deliveries needed for the onsite batch plant. One of the contractors suggested constructing a temporary access bridge onto the site. The batch plant itself was a unique vertical design with a small footprint that maximized the limited space, keeping it out of the way of other construction operations and eliminating the need for any off-site equipment staging during construction. That, too, came at the suggestion of one of the contractors.

A NEW STANDARD

There was ongoing planning, information-sharing, innovation, and team building meetings that included both USACE and contractor personnel.

The joint nature of the team, along with innovative design and forecasting, and construction technology, led to completion of a state-of-the-art facility at Folsom Reservoir that set a new standard for Mega-Projects.

The success of JFP was all about collaboration and innovation. That was the biggest lesson learned. As David Thomas, USACE Sacramento District’s former Mega-Projects Center Director, who oversaw the project from 2012 until the completion of construction in fall 2017, said: “When you’re working on a project of this scale and magnitude, the worst thing you can do is not ask for help.”

Richard Brown is Senior Public Affairs Specialist, USACE Sacramento District; richard.d.brown@usace.army.mil.

ACHIEVING EXCELLENCE

The Folsom Auxiliary Dam and Spillway Mega-Project has received numerous awards and accolades for engineering, collaboration, and leadership.

• 2018 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award of Merit for Phase IV – American Society of Civil Engineers
• 2017 John L. Martin Partnered Project of the Year for Phase IV – International Partnering Institute
• 2016 Project of the Year for Phase IV – Sacramento Valley Chapter Project Management Institute
• 2016 Charles S. Pope Construction Award recognizing MegaProjects Center Director David Thomas for Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway – American Society of Civil Engineers
• 2016 Outstanding Water Project for Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway – American Society of Civil Engineers Region 9
• 2015 Project of the Year for Phase III – Sacramento Valley Chapter Project Management Institute
• 2017 Constructor Award (Meeting the Challenge of a Difficult Job) – Associated General Contractors of California
• 2010 Project Delivery Team of the Year for Design and Award of Phase III – HQ USACE
• 2010 Owner of the Year for Folsom Dam Auxiliary Spillway – Engineering News-Record
• Various internal USACE awards for outstanding service by an individual, individual leadership, and teamwork

SPACE LIMITATIONS

Challenges existed on the construction site, in terms of the amount of real estate available to support concurrent activities. When the Katrina-influenced decision was made to move Phase IV construction of the spillway’s approach channel, chute and stilling basin up on the schedule, Phase III construction of the control structure was not yet complete. Now, two prime contractors under two separate contracts would have to share a limited workspace already occupied by the Phase III contractor, and both would have to work on their respective phase of construction concurrently rather than subsequently. This requirement was not considered in the original plan. But everybody involved understood that work between the two phases needed to be seamless.

One such solution was to help ease construction traffic from the concrete, aggregate and cement deliveries needed for the onsite batch plant. One of the contractors suggested constructing a temporary access bridge onto the site. The batch plant itself was a unique vertical design with a small footprint that maximized the limited space, keeping it out of the way of other construction operations and eliminating the need for any off-site equipment staging during construction. That, too, came at the suggestion of one of the contractors.

A NEW STANDARD

There was ongoing planning, information-sharing, innovation, and team building meetings that included both USACE and contractor personnel.

The joint nature of the team, along with innovative design and forecasting, and construction technology, led to completion of a state-of-the-art facility at Folsom Reservoir that set a new standard for Mega-Projects.

The success of JFP was all about collaboration and innovation. That was the biggest lesson learned. As David Thomas, USACE Sacramento District’s former Mega-Projects Center Director, who oversaw the project from 2012 until the completion of construction in fall 2017, said: “When you’re working on a project of this scale and magnitude, the worst thing you can do is not ask for help.”


Richard Brown is Senior Public Affairs Specialist, USACE Sacramento District; richard.d.brown@usace.army.mil.

[This article first published in the 2018 November-December issue of The Military Engineer]