Why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Partners with Hydraulic Institute

With boomers retiring and hundreds of projects to manage, the Corps relies on Hydraulic Institute standards and training to bring new engineers up to speed.

Category: PSM Newsletter, Blogs September 27, 2022

With boomers retiring and hundreds of projects to manage, the Corps relies on Hydraulic Institute standards and training to bring new engineers up to speed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is known for building massive projects, but it also operates and oversees hundreds of dams, locks, levees, and flood control systems all over the United States. It takes hundreds of engineers to keep those systems humming and many are now reaching retirement age.

That means USACE must train its young engineers to run and supervise its water systems as quickly as possible. To help achieve this goal, the Corps has teamed with the Hydraulic Institute to access standards and guidelines, train engineers online, and provide Pump System Assessment Professional certification.

To learn more, we spoke with Timothy Paulus, the Corps’ community of practice lead for civil works. After joining USACE as a mechanical engineer out of college, Paulus spent 32 years working on projects as varied as flood control in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to locks and dams all over the country. He also published widely, developed training programs, and was a member of USACE consistency review teams.

HI: Almost everyone has heard about the Corps’ big projects, but what is its actual mission?

Paulus: We actually have two missions. The first is military and involves designing and building Army installations all over the world. The second involves civil works and it has two components. The first is to support navigation by operating and maintaining a series of locks and dams on major rivers, such as the Mississippi, Ohio, and Columbia. The second is to design, build, operate, and oversee flood control systems for vulnerable areas, including levees and pumping stations.

HI: Many of your systems use pumps, right?

Paulus: A pretty good part of them, yes. On the civil side, the locks, dams, and flood control systems we build all use pumps, some of them very big. After Katrina, we installed some of the world’s largest pumps on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. They are 14-foot in diameter and can move a million gallons of water every minute. We also operate smaller stations that might move 1,000 gallons per minute. Most of our systems are fairly straightforward but they run the gamut from medium to very large.

HI: What are some of the challenges you face regularly?

Paulus: Design is always an issue. Because we often deal with flooding, flow conditions on the intake side are often a challenge and involve modeling. It helps to have access to Hydraulic Institute standards during the design phase to understand how variable flow conditions will affect operations so we don’t shorten pump lifespans.

We also have to look at materials standards because our pumps go everywhere, including brackish water and even saltwater. Sometimes, there are environmental considerations. For example, we’re planning to build a big pump station down in the Everglades and the local water management district won’t let us use grease to lubricate our pumps. So, we needed to build a filtration system so we can use clean water as a lubricant instead.

Flood protection also has challenges. After building a system, we usually operate it for a short period of time and then turn it over to a local sponsor under a cost-sharing agreement. Then it is up to us to monitor how cities are running and maintaining those pumps. We’re required to inspect these systems every five years. The local sponsors must show records and our engineers go through this data very carefully.

HI: You originally got involved with the Hydraulic Institute through codes and standards, right?

Paulus: My personal involvement started when I moved to USACE headquarters. One of my first initiatives was to get access to Hydraulic Institute and other standards at an enterprise level. Up until then, if a designer needed to reference a standard, his or her office had to buy the standard itself. Now, we are an HI standards partner, so all our engineers have enterprise-wide access to the latest standards, references, and online courses, and we are also involved in developing new standards.

HI: You have a lot of engineers taking the Hydraulic Institute’s training programs. Why?

Paulus: If you look across the Corps, we have just under 1,000 mechanical engineers, about 300 to 400 of them on the civil works side. Many of them are baby boomers, senior engineers with a great deal of experience designing pump systems from ground up. They have begun to retire, so we’re seeing a lot of turnover.

We are bringing in new engineers to take their place. They learned some hydraulics in school, but their knowledge may not be specific or in-depth enough for our needs. Before they start, it’s important to make sure they all have a solid grounding in pump system fundamentals. HI’s training classes do that, so when it comes time to work with a mentor to design a pump station, they have a really good understanding of what they are doing.

HI: You run a large organization. How have you implemented training classes?

Paulus: We have a pretty good idea who our newer engineers are, so we reach out to them periodically. The ones who want the training get back to me and I put them on our training list. So far, we’ve done only virtual classes. You can reach a lot of people in a hurry and eliminate travel costs. We trained 50 engineers last year and we’re on track to train 60 this year. We even got a few military people who manage water treatment at Army installations—some large bases are the size of small cities.

The first class covers pump system fundamentals. It is a one-day course, and it is definitely a long day. Our students include people who have no experience with pumps and others who have years of experience, but the instructors do a great job teaching to that kind of audience. There are also follow-up courses in pump system optimization and assessment, but they require a firm grounding in the fundamentals. There are also classes for engineers who want to go on and receive their PSAP certification. The classes are limited to 30 to 35 people to make sure we get good interactions with the instructors.

HI: Was this something that was an easy sell to the organization?

Paulus: Very easy.

HI: Have you notched any wins because of the training?

Paulus: From my perspective, we are making sure our engineers are getting the courses they need to better understand pumps and pumping systems. This will put them in a position to succeed when they are called on to model and design pump stations.

The Biden Administration has set new standards for energy efficiency. We want to make sure our pumps are operating at best efficiency points on the pump curves and that we are using the best energy-efficient pumps for our applications. Partnering with the Hydraulic Institute for codes, guides, and training is helping us get there.



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