Monday, July 11, 2016

Oh Dam!

After lunch today, we took a trip over to Woodcock Dam, a rancid-smelling but scenic corner of the Pittsburgh District of watersheds. We'd been given a brief introduction to the dam the day before, and we'd also spent part of our afternoon building a miniature one on a stream table (a.k.a. a giant, wet sandbox), so we weren't new to the topic, but we definitely had only scratched the surface of the immense amount of thought, planning, teamwork, and science involved in the construction and maintenance of a real-life dam.

Joe, a park ranger working for a division of the U.S. Military, gave us a more in-depth (no pun intended) presentation of the dam, inside and out. We learned how a system of buoys, anchors, and sensors transmitted water temperature data to biologists in real time, allowing them to have a better understanding of what life the water can and can't maintain. We also learned how hydrologists regulate and prevent flooding by communicating with each other from all around the district so that they can know how much water is safe to release from a dam without flooding any downstream areas. Additionally, Joe showed us why "doors" that let water flow through the stream are positioned in the way that they are: there are openings at the very bottom in case of an emergency, but since water at the bottom has very little dissolved oxygen, it's not desirable to let into a creek unless we want fish to drown; there are also openings located in the middle and closer to the top, which are opened and closed depending on environmental changes.

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