May 31 is National Dam Safety Awareness Day. The day commemorates the 1889 failure of the South Fork Dam near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, which killed 2,220 people on that date. And while the reason for the day is tragic, WithersRavenel’s stormwater, survey, and construction professionals take pride in the dam services they provide to improve the safety of these important structures.
Staff Professional Nathaniel Eddy, EI, is one of those dedicated professionals. A member of our stormwater department, much of Nathaniel’s work is focused on dams and safety. Let’s meet Nathaniel in our Owner Profile.
What does the typical workday at WithersRavenel look like for you?
There is a lot of variety. Sometimes the work is supporting the Land Development group with their stormwater needs and sometimes its stormwater-specific projects, which includes a lot of the dam safety work. Many of those projects are dam retrofits, jurisdictional determinations, or EAPs, which are Emergency Action Plans. EAPs have been my primary role in our dam work. We model the worst-case scenario should a dam fail and figure out infrastructure, people, and properties that might get impacted along with who we would need to notify for emergency response.
The work is a team effort. The survey staff does a great job collecting data we need for these projects, and we’ve got our CA/CO group that is out there when construction is happening. I don’t go out in the field much, though I’ve gone to 3-4 of the local dams, taking photos to include with the EAPs so first responders know what they’re looking for when they go to these sites.
How did you first get involved with working on dam projects?
I did a lot of stormwater work at my last job, and some of the Emergency Watershed Protection projects included work involving dams. At WithersRavenel, I’ve gotten involved in dam retrofits and EAPs.
For the EAPs, our goal is to figure out who would be impacted if the dam were to fail and provide a list of people and places to first responders. We model a rainfall event based on the size of the dam and the volume of its impoundment and then analyze it for its worst-case scenario failure during that event. We also model what’s called a sunny-day failure, which is basically to see what would happen if the dam were to fail when it isn’t raining. Then we can then create an inundation map to show how the downstream areas would be affected by both events and include that in our EAP. If the first responders know what could happen, they can respond quickly in an emergency and hopefully evacuate people ahead of time when possible.
Is it rewarding knowing that your work contributes to the safety of communities?
Yes, that’s a big part of what we do. The dams we are often working with are already listed as high hazard. That doesn’t mean that they are likely to fail, but if they are to fail that there would be a possibility for a lot of damage or that people could be endangered. It’s important to analyze these dams and get the maps and the plans prepared to help protect people in case of an emergency.
How did you become interested in and involved with aquaculture?
Aquaculture is basically fish farming. When I was an undergrad, my advisor Dr. Hall got me involved in the Aquaculture Engineering lab. I hadn’t even realized that aquaculture was connected to my degree, so I was excited to find out about our program because I’d always been interested in fish farming. When I was a kid, I think I had seen an episode of Dirty Jobswhere they were on a fish farm and thought, wow, that is really cool.
For my senior project we designed a shellfish hatchery for a startup that is still in operation. Aquaculture is a fun side of engineering and can be very sustainable if done correctly. That is where a lot of the research is going: how it can it be sustainable, how it can mitigate food insecurities for a growing population, and how it can take some pressure off fisheries.
And you had an internship in aquaculture as well?
I had a combined internship with a couple of companies. It was through New York Sea Grant, and it was called the Fish to Dish internship. During the week, we would partner with a local business involved in the seafood industry, and on weekends we did education and outreach, helping people understand water quality, seafood, and health and safety. I worked with Acme Smoked Fish in Brooklyn, New York, mostly doing quality control. I also got to help with automating their nutrition labels – if you go into a grocery store and you see a stick-on nutritional label on smoked salmon, it’s probably one I worked on.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to spend a lot of time with my church (Vintage Church). They are just a block from our downtown Raleigh office. Since joining WithersRavenel, I’ve been able to get a lot more involved with them. I like to go fishing; I’m not very good at it, though you think I would be based on my work experience and interests.
You’ve also recently become a new homeowner, right?
My wife and I have been out in Knightdale for a couple months. I’ve enjoyed meeting our neighbors, getting back into yardwork, and having more space for our dog. My family has always been into gardening. Both of my grandfathers were avid gardeners and my grandfather on my mom’s side breeds daylilies. He used to take them to a competition each year, it’s kind of like the state fair where they judge the plants and give out ribbons, the same sort of format.
I’m glad to have a house, be mowing the lawn, planting flowers. I still kill plants pretty often, but I’d like to think I have some sort of genetic advantage from my grandfathers when it comes to landscaping and gardening.