By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – The Mobile District is one of the many districts in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for a multitude of water projects and maintaining rivers, and bays navigable for commercial and recreational traffic.
To keep rivers and bays safe requires dredging the waters to ensure they are clean and safe, which is where the Dredging Quality Management program comes in.
The DQM program is a USACE’s dredging industry partnership for automated dredging monitoring of Corps dredging projects.
Mobile’s DQM team provides this dredging information to ensure project success and compliance with environmental regulations.
“DQM’s goals are to provide quality, near-real time data that allows for rapid response to emerging situations,” said Clint Padgett, Spatial Data Branch chief. “They also want to improve business practices, ensure environmental compliance, and increase our knowledge of dredging science and technology.”
The DQM provides the USACE dredging manager a nationally standardized, low cost, remote monitoring, and documentation system. This system provides the Corps with timely data access, multiple reporting formats, full technical support, including dredge certifications, data quality control, database management, and support for the DQM operating system.
On board the dredge, sensors continually monitor dredge activities, operations, and efficiency. Information from these sensors is routed to the National DQM Support Center for data processing, storage, and publishing. The DQM web-based tools can be utilized to view project operations, produce disposal plots, and data export of dredge operations.
Padgett said one of the advantages of the program is how it made the collection of data uniform across all USACE’s districts.
“One of the major benefits of the DQM program has been the standardized collection of dredging data,” Padgett said. “Meaning, that as a plant moves from district to district, or contract to contract, it does not have to install/uninstall instrumentation to meet local requirements.”
One innovation that the DQM team and the Spatial Data Branch developed was the Operations and Dredging Endangered Species System.
Developed in the district in 2017, the purpose of the ODESS system is to automate data collection. It provides an interactive decision-making tool that measures the impact of hopper dredging activities on threatened and endangered species, and to assist other agencies in the evaluation of this data.
ODESS provides a platform to centralize and archive TES data from dredging activities for long-term continuity and evaluation across regions, under the various negotiated biological opinions.
Rhonda Lenoir, DQM program manager, said the system has been an invaluable tool to her team and has allowed them to share the information with other agencies much easier.
“ODESS allows USACE to quickly report the occurrence of TES incidents and how that impacts the regional biological opinions,” Lenoir said. “The transparency of the data reporting allows for the immediate assessment of dredging activities and determining dredging continuation after the incident. USACE is able to share the data with the public and other federal agencies relatively seamlessly. The addition of ODESS working within DQM improves the success of the dredging project completion within the environmental windows and ensuring limits aren’t exceeded.”
Lenoir said one of the things she is most proud of, is her team’s recent response and the invaluable contributions they were able to provide USACE and their partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were a valued asset for the safety of USACE personnel and contractors during the COVID pandemic,” Lenoir said. “We’ve been able to maintain an electronic monitoring system that assisted USACE and dredging personnel to remotely visualize the dredging activities. It reduced the need to have additional personnel on the vessels and at the same time, kept dredging projects progressing. The DQM tools are able to keep the USACE and dredging contractors safe in the field, while ensuring the dredging activities are taking place as directed. Meeting the mission goals are essential, but safety is always key, and we were able to deliver on both.”
Providing on-time dredging information to customers, while remaining a close, tight-knit group is why Lenoir said she enjoys being a part of the DQM team.
“The team works as a cohesive unit to ensure the job gets done,” Lenoir said. “From collecting the data, to resolving emergency issues, we work collectively to maintain a system that delivers 24/7 support and quality data for our customers. We create products that serve the nation. Most of all this team is my family when I’m away from my biological family. We work together to cover each other so that the program always delivers!”