WEDA’s Dredging Summit Held Virtually This Year
For the second year in a row, COVID-19 forced the Western Dredging Association (WEDA) to adjust its plans for the organization’s annual Dredging Summit & Expo. While WEDA canceled the 2020 installment altogether, the association opted to move the 2021 event online. WEDA held the virtual Dredging Summit June 15–17.
Spread across three consecutive afternoons, the 2021 virtual meeting covered a wide range of dredging-related topics, including beneficial use of dredge materials and sediment remediation, innovations for specific dredging applications, the role of dredging in offshore wind energy, the impacts of the latest Water Resources Development Act (WRDA 2020), and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dredging Quality Management
William Rae, a project engineer with RPS Evans-Hamilton who is involved with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Dredging Quality Management Program (DQM), discussed how, at the beginning of 2020, the Corps’ DQM program was doing quite well.
“We were preparing a rigorous field schedule to accommodate all the additional QA checks,” Rae said. “However, within a few months, the program, along with the entire nation, was grappling with how to deal with the pandemic.”
And though traveling to site checks was off the table, DQM leaders decided to “make lemonade with lemons” and identify a way for the program to thrive in spite of restrictions, Rae said.
One place of innovation was checking draft sensors on board dredge scows. Rather than site checks, the DQM team was able to more accurately calibrate draft sensors and then monitor them remotely, a move that meant fewer personnel in the field and less of an impact on dredge operations. Similarly, the team was able to use portable pressure sensors to monitor drag head and cutter head operations, rather than using a chain to measure depth.
Pipeline dredges were already in the process of being added to the DQM program, Rae said, which allowed Corps officials to lean even more on data gleaned from the system.
“When the DQM field work was paused, we realized we had a great opportunity to evaluate various aspects of how the DQM program is going,” Rae said.
Besides realtime monitoring, the team delved deeper into data and observable trends. Doing so helped the team know better where to focus efforts and improve operations.
“With continued observation of trends and data quality, we see the potential for future performance-based [quality assurance] scheduling or reducing the frequency of visit with simpler instrumentation,” Rae said.
WEDA panelists also took a close look at trends in the Corps’ budget for civil works and the long-term impacts WRDA 2020 will have on the dredging industry. Jase Ousley, dredging program manager at Corps headquarters, looked at aspects WRDA 2020 that seek to boost the beneficial use of dredged material and bring some innovation to some Corps dredging contracts.
Ousley identified five components of Section 125 of WRDA 2020 that promote beneficial use. That section 1) established a national policy for the Corps to consider economic and environmental benefits when calculating the “federal standard”; 2) amended section 204 of WRDA 1992 to allow beneficial use projects to be funded from construction or operation and maintenance accounts; 3) increased the number of beneficial use demonstration projects to 35; 4) directed the Corps to launch a five-year regional dredged material management plan; and 5) emphasized coordination across Corps dredging contracts.
Ousley pointed to the regional dredge demonstration program along the Gulf Coast as an example of that fifth element of section 125.
“This piece of this legislation extends that into our inland systems,” Ousley said. “So we’re going to be looking to do some similar type things, thinking about how we’re structuring our contracts in the inland systems also.”
Following WRDA 2020 becoming law, Ousley said Corps officials engaged in lengthy listening sessions and a comment review period to gain a better understanding of industry and community priorities, which included calls to take more regional and long-term approaches, not only for dredging projects themselves, but also how to best reuse material, be more efficient and innovate with regard to dredging equipment and strategies.
“We feel like there were lots of ideas brought to the table that we’re going to be able to use as we continue to draft the implementation guidance,” Ousley said.
The Virtual Dredging Summit spent a whole session solely focused on the beneficial use of sediment. In all, more than 1,300 beneficial use projects have been undertaken to date in the United States, with beach nourishment, island restoration and marsh creation accounting for the three biggest categories of projects.
Kristin Searcy Bell with Ramboll discussed the recent history of the beneficial use of dredged material in the United States, which has remained mostly steady the last decade. While the annual total amount of material dredged for navigation since 2010 has bounced between 125 million cubic meters and 250 million cubic meters, the amount of material beneficially used has remained close to about 75 million—or just under 50 percent of all dredged material.
Bell identified some of the technical, economic and institutional barriers to the beneficial use of dredged material. Sediment contamination, physical characteristics and bad project timing can all be technical barriers to beneficially using dredged material. Likewise, material testing and treatment can prove to be economic barriers. Sometimes, institutional barriers like a lack of a harmonized approach among state and federal regulations can impede the beneficial use of sediment.
One way to overcome those barriers is to better quantify benefits to reusing dredged material.
“There are tools out there to help us quantify these additional benefits,” Bell said. “Both a net environmental benefit analysis and also ecosystem service analysis can provide quantitative values for these long-term, societal, ecological and cost-avoidance measures.”
WRDA 2020, Bell said, is an example of legislation paving the way for increased beneficial use projects. In addition, communication and collaboration across governmental agencies, at the local, state and national level, can lead to improved coordination and increased beneficial use.
WEDA has posted all presentations for the 2021 Virtual Dredging Summit on its website. In addition, upcoming meetings and webinars are posted online, including next year’s Dredging Summit & Expo, set for July 25–28, 2022, in Houston.