News

Published:

January 8, 2016
 
Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Honors College, Department of Physics, Joint Degree Programs

Finding Solutions to Dam Problems

News


by Jordan Chapman

A Dutch legend tells of a young boy who passed a dike, when he noticed a leak in the wall. In a moment of self-sacrifice, he plugged the spring with a finger until help arrived. The moral of the story illustrates that even those with limited resources can avert disaster. Victoria Grover does the legend one better. She’s real.

Grover, a physics major and Honors College senior enrolled in the 4-2 joint degree program at Columbia University, spent her 2015 Summer studying and finding solutions for a deteriorating embankment dam on her family’s land in Albany County. Her field report explained that in recent years the dam has been “leaking more actively, jeopardizing both the stability of the structure and the existence of the pond it contains.”

Like the Dutch legend, her work as an Honors College Summer Research Fellow reveals initiative, determination and a desire to help, though her findings suggest more than a simple plug in a wall.

She found that the dam’s current soil erosion is the product of many factors:

  • • Overtopping, when a dam overflows
  • • Piping, when tree roots grow into the soil of the dam, a problem only heightened when the tree—and it’s network of roots—dies off
  • • Frost action, when water molecules get into the soil and freeze, forcing clumps of dam soil apart
  • • Beavers taking from the mud and clay pack that protects the dam’s soil
  • • Muskrats burrowing into the dam embankment
  • • Clogged springs, affecting water levels and consequently encouraging plant growth

This is serious business. The dam’s deterioration and the pond’s clogged springs mean water levels can’t be regulated. Of the six fish species found in the pond, one has been notably absent. Aside from the fish, Grover noted that freshwater habitats are breeding grounds for numerous species of frogs, newts, salamanders and dragonflies, as well as an attractive environment for water snakes and herons. Wetland marches are also imperative for the survival of various plant species.

“It’s been a concern for us in what’s going to happen to the dam,” Grover said. The land has been owned and fished by her family for 50–60 years.

Renewal tactics include sand bags to cure the leaking and riprap to help preserve the smoother, easily erodible, surfaces.

Tree removal, Grover said, would be necessary and is a tactic her family has already implemented. “Roots grow into the soil. I suspect that’s what caused the leaks in the first place,” Grover said, adding that new PVC pipe also was sleeved inside an old steel pipe to reestablish clogged water flow, and a new drain gate was installed through which water can flow to assist with overtopping.

“It’s been really cool to see what I could do on my own. It’s been a unique but challenging experience,” she said.

The pond and dam rehabilitation are ongoing, but her work is portfolio ready and will serve her well as she continues her joint degree studies at Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, where she’ll earn a B.S. in Engineering following her completion of a B.S. in Physics at Adelphi.

Honors College summer research fellowships supply $500 a week for up to eight weeks for summer research in any field. Preference is given to seniors, but freshmen are also eligible. Other research opportunities are also available. For more information, call 516.877.3800.

 
Tagged: College of Arts and Sciences, Honors College, Department of Physics, Joint Degree Programs