Members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region III West Virginia FEMA Integration Team (WV FIT) got to see firsthand and learn about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Huntington District’s Kanawha River Basin flood management system during a tour of the Bluestone Dam and a follow-up classroom training session this week.
During the daylong tour of the dam complex and interior 16 WV FIT members learned how the dam fits into the USACE’s overall flood management program for the southeast portion of the Mountain State.
“The inner workings and the magnitude amazed me,” said Ricky Snodgrass, FIT Environmental and Historic Preservation Specialist, describing his impression of the half-mile long, 165-foot tall structure, “I learned a lot about the importance of the dam and in particular with flood control. If we did not have the dam during a lot of the bigger events we’ve had, the effects on the communities downstream would have been devastating.”
“Bluestone is not designed to eliminate floods,” explained the dam’s project manager Josh Miller. “That’s a common misconception. It will not protect us from all storms. It smooths out those other storms that could cause flooding.”
“During the presentation, I learned that half of the water that flows through Charleston in the Kanawha River comes from the Bluestone, said Public Assistance Specialist Jim Quintana. Without the Bluestone, the Kanawha River Basin would have experienced a greater loss of life and damage to the downstream communities since it began operating in 1949, he said.
“The dam helped save $5.9 billion in damage from floods on the Kanawha River,” he said. “It made me think about how catastrophic events could have been if the dam was not there.”
The Huntington District operates the Kanawha River Basin flood management system that in addition to the Bluestone, includes the Sutton Dam on the Elk River and Summersville Dam on the Gauley River. Together they provide flood risk management for the Kanawha River Valley.
“The Bluestone Dam is one of the most important pieces of flood infrastructure in West Virginia,” said James Young, WV FIT Interagency Recovery Coordination Lead. “With the current upgrades and construction, it makes it imperative for FEMA to understand the construction timelines and flood risk communication associated with the project. This federal agency coordination will make FEMA and the state better prepared for future weather events and emergencies.”
During the WVFIT’s monthly training session on Feb. 27, members of the District’s Emergency Management Team, incorporated additional technical information about the Bluestone’s purpose with district’s Emergency Support Function #3 mission.
In addition to going into greater detail of the dam’s mission and history the USACE team also demonstrated geographic information systems (GIS) Corps flood mangers and emergency managers use to monitor water flows in the Kanawha River system and visualize potential effects of a flood in downstream communities.
Overall, both events strengthened working relationships between the Huntington District and the WV FIT, said Randy Campbell, the district’s chief of emergency management.”
“We are so glad this (WV FIT) office is here,” Campbell said.
“The trip to Bluestone and our training session with the USACE team are perfect examples of the coordination that the WV FIT should be doing in the state,” Young said. “The FIT will continue to work closely with USACE and we’ll also look for more opportunities for the two agencies to continue to collaborate for the betterment of the State of West Virginia.”
FEMA’s mission is helping people before, during and after disasters. FEMA Region III’s jurisdiction includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Learn more about FEMA Region III at www.FEMA.gov/region-iii. Stay informed of FEMA’s activities online: videos and podcasts are available at fema.gov/medialibrary and youtube.com/fema. Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/femaregion3.