R&D Forum

Naval Research leading team to reduce noise at hydro plants

The U.S. Office of Naval Research has joined forces with the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help prevent noise-induced hearing loss at the nation’s power plants.

The office says it will use its expertise to help identify noise sources and propose engineering controls at dams and hydroelectric plants as part of the inter-agency agreement.

“The Navy is leading the curve when it comes to understanding the dangers of noise,” says Kurt Yankaskas, a program manager in ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department. “It’s a serious problem not only in the Navy and Marine Corps, but across modern society.”

Thus far, the project has been given US$109,000 in federal funding – money that will be well spent, Yankaskas says, given the dangers of high noise levels. “Within ONR, we’re addressing noise-induced hearing loss from all perspectives – engineering, audiology, acquisition programs, medical research and more,” Yankaskas says. “The American public is starting to learn how pervasive our noise exposures are.”

Reclamation’s interest in the project stems from the 476 dams and 58 hydro plants it operates in 17 western states. The bureau says the power it produces satisfies the needs of 9 million people annually, making them a “national strategic asset.” Maintaining and operating them is not cheap, however, and Reclamation official James Meredith says a healthier workforce can help the bureau’s bottom line. “Of our worker’s comp costs, about 20 to 25% is due to hearing loss compensation,” he says. “That amounts to $1.5 million to $2 million dollars per year. Dollar-wise, it’s the largest single component of claims we have.”

Meredith says the noise around penstocks and turbines can range as high as 115-120 decibels. By comparison, a study by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows concerts usually are 110-115 decibels. “For every five decibels, that increases by seven or eight factors of loudness,” Meredith says.

ONR says six sites will undergo an initial round of noise surveys this spring, with additional surveys scheduled for later this year at Corps facilities.

The Corps’ infrastructure includes power-generating units and plants that provide 25% of the nation’s hydropower capacity, according to ONR.

The office says it will use its findings to propose areas for noise improvement through a range of engineering and technology controls.

BPA funds tech innovations, including hydro operations

The Bonneville Power Administration’s Technology Innovation Office is considering a variety of applications for its FY2013 research and development portfolio. BPA expects to spend $4.5 to $6 million on new project funding next fiscal year.

Since 2005, BPA has funded a pipeline of projects that result in a more efficient Northwest power system, with a recent focus on technologies in the areas of hydroelectric power operations, energy efficiency, physical security and transmission services.

Recently funded research projects include oscillation damping and voltage stability controls, energy efficiency emerging technologies, and compressed air and thermal storage in Columbia River basalt.

Phase one involved interested companies submitting concept papers and information about their qualifications. Those meeting the qualifying criteria will be invited to further develop their proposals for phase two. Projects selected will be announced in July.

Research in Oregon focuses on Columbia River eulachon numbers

One aspect of a study being performed on the Columbia River and its tributaries in Oregon involves determining whether and how operation of hydroelectric facilities affects the population of euchalons, or smelt.

Smelt are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, although they appear to be returning in stronger numbers the past two years, says the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. These fish are important because they are prey for many other species.

Biologists are measuring smelt eggs and larvae collected at multiple points along the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam downstream 105 miles. In cooperation with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, ODFW researchers are trying to identify critical habitats, reproductive success, timing and other factors in the main stem Columbia River, says Erick VanDyke, ODFW euchalon fisheries project leader.

In addition to operation of hydro plants, other activities that can affect the fish include dredging and the presence of commercial and recreational smelt fishing, which has currently been banned.

Corps plans study of non-physical fish barriers

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to hire a company that can evaluate non-physical barriers to deter fish passage in a laboratory setting.

The Corps’ Kansas City District will study ways to prevent walleye from leaving Rathbun Lake through an outlet in Rathbun Dam on the Chariton River in Iowa. Emigration of walleye during moderate and high flows reduces the overall population of the species in the lake.

The Corps plans to evaluate walleye exposed to negative stimuli including light, sound, and an air bubble curtain to determine which would most effectively divert the fish from the dam outlet.

The contractor would perform this work at the Rathbun Lake Fish Hatchery with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The contractor would provide and install equipment in a test pond and be available by telephone and e-mail for consultation during the estimated 120-day study to be performed by Iowa DNR.

Arizona tribe seeks environmental study of Miner Flat Dam project

The White Mountain Apache Tribe plans to prepare an environmental impact statement on the proposed White Mountain Rural Water System, including Miner Flat Dam in Arizona.

The tribe accepted qualifications in January for engineering design of the system, including technical evaluation of hydro potential. The Bureau of Reclamation awarded a construction cooperative agreement to the Apache and is assisting the tribe on the project.

The tribe seeks environmental consulting services including collection, analysis and coordination with design firms in sufficient detail to prepare an EIS for the project’s three components:

– A 160-foot-tall, 450-foot-wide roller-compacted-concrete dam on the North Fork of the White River, spillway, outlet works, and potential for hydroelectric generation;
– A 12.4 million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant; and
– A 60-mile water transmission system including pipelines, pump stations and storage tanks.

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