UC Students Tour Caesar Creek Lake Dam
BY: Kassidy R. Buschor | UC SAME Vice President
On the morning of March 30th, 2019, twenty students and Army ROTC cadets from the University of Cincinnati (UC) took to the road for the Caesar Creek Lake Dam in Waynesville, Ohio. The Caesar Creek Lake Dam is a 2,650 foot long earthen dam structure with a clay center. The US Army Corps of Engineers monitors and preserves this project. These students are members of the UC student chapter of the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). Accompanying these students were COL Paul Kremer, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division (LRD) Deputy Commander, and his daughter, Victoria; LTC(P) Aaron Hill, on temporary assignment to LRD from the US Military Academy where he teaches Structural Engineering; Phil Tilly, LRD Program Mgr; Clint Weekley and his son, Walker; 1LT Doug Strange and his father, MSG (ret) Don Strange; and Former UC Division of Professional Practice, Louis Trent, PhD. The Student Chapter of SAME is a new club to the University of Cincinnati that is free for all students to join regardless of academic major or military service. The UC SAME Chapter promotes the awareness and education of students on the complex engineering challenges faced by the United States government. The Chapter works closely with military and civilian mentors, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Cincinnati SAME post to arrange guest speakers, site visits, community outreach events, and more.
The twenty students and mentors arrived at the Caesar Creek Lake Visitor’s Center. The building is located southeast of Waynesville and is part of the 10,550 acre project with access to premium nature trails and beautiful overlooks. The Visitor Center offers learning opportunities annually to some 1,050,000 visiting members of the public relating to the USACE missions as well as water and natural resources management. This is where the Park Rangers informed the students and mentors about the history of Caesar Creek Lake, the dam and spillway, and the surrounding area. The Visitor Center also includes interactive photo galleries and a theater for schools and tour groups. Looking around the building, students could see the numerous types of fish and historic fossil remains that are common at Caesar Creek Lake. All students and mentors were engaged after learning about the unique history of the dam project and location.
The tour began with a project brief presented by USACE Park Manager Jim O’Boyle and Park Rangers Kim Baker, and Jessica Zimmer. Jim O’Boyle began with introductions of the Caesar Creek Lake USACE Park Rangers and a safety brief for the day. The students were then presented a short video and slide show that visually outlined the history of the lake as well as the operation and construction of the dam.
Caesar Creek Lake is located in an area with old rocky gorges and in 1936 what is known as the Dayton Flood occurred in the Caesar Creek Lake and surrounding areas. With the amount of damage that occurred from the flood, Caesar Creek Lake was placed under the Flood Control Act of 1938. Today, the construction and operations of Caesar Creek Lake is under the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USACE co-manages Caesar Creek Lake to focus on flood control and to improve quality of life. Today, Caesar Creek Lake is known for its boating, fishing, swimming, hunting, and hiking trails.narrow valleys. This area is known for its rich and fertile soil and vegetation. The Caesar Creek Pioneer Village is located at Caesar Creek Lake. This historically significant village consists of late 1700’s and early 1800’s buildings, a log house, and a barn. This area now serves as a popular location for programs, events, and festivals. In the 1800s, there was a slave named Caesar who was traveling along the Ohio River. Caesar was adopted by the Shawnee Tribe and given the creek that bears his name as his hunting grounds. The Shawnee were a Native American tribe that was located in a valley near what is now Caesar Creek Lake.
After passing through several security checkpoints, the USACE Park Rangers lead the students to the dam’s Control Tower area. The students and mentors were guided through another security gate and across the bridge of the Control Tower. This bridge is 80 feet above the lake’s surface and serves as an entrance into the Control Tower. This bridge was built and designed strong enough for large maintenance vehicles to travel on when repairs inside of the tower are necessary. The Control Tower is located at the deepest part of the Caesar Creek Lake, over 100 feet deep. Inside of this massive, 200 foot tall tower, the USACE staff described and showed the students the machines and equipment used to operate the dam. There was even an elevator that could be used to go down to the lower levels of the structure. The exact sizes of the dam’s main gate and by-pass gates were displayed on the inside walls of the tower. The students were impressed and astonished by the size of gates used on this dam project. USACE Park Rangers described how the gates are lifted and closed to control the water flow output as well as the process and mechanisms that are involved in lifting and replacing the gates in case of gate maintenance. Here is when the students learned that the gates are constructed in pairs to allow for proper maintenance and the continuation of the dam operations. The gates within the tower are essential to preserving habitat for fish and wildlife. Each gate is placed at varying depths which help the USACE staff regulate the lake’s temperature and oxygen levels. An improper balance of temperature and oxygen during controlled water releases can lead to fish fatalities. Touring the Control Tower was a unique experience that gave the students an appreciation of the size, complexity, and importance of the structure.
Continuing on the tour, the Park Rangers led the group over the earth and clay dam and past the uncontrolled Emergency Spillway. The Spillway at Caesar Creek Lake is used for water diversion when water cannot be discharged from the dam due to high water levels of the streams and rivers downstream of the Caesar Creek Lake Dam. The lake level is lowered, from seasonal operating pool, at 849 feet msl, to the minimal or winter pool, at 846 feet msl, in the latter half of the year in order to prepare for spring’s heavy rainfall and April showers. The Spillway is a famous tourist attraction due to its abundance of fossils. This serves as a learning tool for many student groups, tours, and Caesar Creek Lake visitors. A free fossil permit will give you an opportunity to search for and study Ordovician age fossils. Many prehistoric trilobite fossils can be found within the Spillway area as well as on display in the Visitor Center. The UC SAME students hope to take part in discovering fossils during their next visit to Caesar Creek Lake.
The dam at Caesar Creek Lake is the first earth and rock fill type dam the UC SAME students have toured. After construction of the dam, Caesar Creek Lake took a little over one year to fill to operational pool capacity. At the base of the dam lies a 2000 foot long conduit. This conduit allows for the minimal discharge of 16 cfs on by-pass gates to a maximum 91,400 cfs on main gates of water from the dam. The exterior of the conduit opening is an enormous 18 feet in diameter. The operations and maintenance team inspects the earth and clay dam structures for leaks and cracks weekly. The dam is covered with grass that has to be maintained and inspected as well. The Maintenance Staff are experts when looking for damp patches and longer or greener grass than usual. The job of the mower is of high importance in that it is directly related to the continued success of the dam. The Caesar Creek Lake dam serves as the water passage from Caesar Creek to downstream waterways, such as the Miami Valley and the Ohio River.
With the completion of the Caesar Creek Lake Dam project, the nation can be assured it has reaped benefits. The surrounding Warren, Clinton, and Greene counties have not experienced the same impacts from a flood since the lake finished construction in 1976. The Lake’s drainage basin covers some 237 square miles, with a lake surface area at normal pool covering 2,830 acres, which has allowed for flood reduction benefits totaling some $1,163,000,000 in economic impact savings from high water or downstream flooding events. The technology, construction, and safety advances are sure to show in future projects for the USACE. Finally, the project has benefited the many young minds and engineers that have worked or toured the site. The United States builds upon its engineering excellence from generation to generation from the professionals that volunteer their time to teach the students around them.
The USACE works hard to improve the quality of life through their projects and assignments. From the site tour, UC students believe that they are doing a great job at this goal. The students had never seen a project of this type, structure, and importance. Their up close tour strengthened their experiences and dreams of becoming professional engineers themselves. For the Army ROTC Cadets that participated in this tour, they enjoyed a look into the Engineer Branch of the Army. Opportunities like this allow Cadets to find the right branch which, upon graduation and commissioning, they will enter.
For more information on the Caesar Creek Lake Dam project visit the USACE website at: https://www.lrl.usace.army.mil/Missions/Civil-Works/Recreation/Lakes/Caesar-Creek-Lake/
For UC students interested in SAME and the opportunities of this organization visit the SAME page on campuslink at: https://campuslink.uc.edu/ or our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/ucsame/