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The Effects of the US Army Corp Engineers Lock and Dam System on Recreation Research Paper

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Updated: Sep 4th, 2019


This paper examines the findings and the work of the US Army Corp of Engineers locks and dams. Included in the content are history of the locks and dams, where, when and why they were built.

The materials used in constructing them, their mode of maintenance procedures and the rivers along which they are found are also discussed. The paper also gives the reasons as to why the Corps of Engineers came up with the idea of building the locks and dams and thus their main mission and reasons for the facilities and how the facilities have affected recreation.

History of the Locks and Dams

The US Army Corps of Engineers discovered an elaborate and wide navigation system along the river Ohio. This was before the Second World War. It had fifty three locks and dam facilities that encouraged navigation from down the river Pittsburgh to the confluence of river Ohio and Mississippi. From the early 1950’s, the initial system was started by the building of eighteen new and modernized locks and dams. Since then it is known that only two of the old structures are still in use.

The newer dams stretch across a total river elevation of over 400 feet. This is put at an average of 22ft per dam. It is noted that the old dams averaged at 8ft per dam. This makes the pooling of the new dams much larger than that of the old ones (as it is indicated in the US Army Corp of Engineers Laboratory Report).

Ballard (1998) argued that at the time there were about 28,000 lock and dam structures being used on a yearly basis. The aim of this paper is to examine the effects of the US Army Corp Engineers lock and dam systems on recreation. The history and maintenance of the locks and dam systems will also be examined.


The lock and dam systems were discovered by the US Army Corp Engineers after they discovered an elaborate navigation not only in Ohio River but also in the Mississippi River. This was also found in other smaller rivers such as the Wisconsin and the Alabama Rivers. As we all know, the USA as much as it might be the land of opportunity as many would like to call it, it is also faced with natural calamities such as flooding caused by hurricanes and tornados that are common across the country.

As a result, the Corp Engineers decided to build locks and dams for major reasons such as disaster response, flood reduction and flood damage control, environmental maintenance, restoration of ecosystem, inland navigation. In addition, they also used the facilities as a source of recreation. They did this by constructing new facilities using new and modernized equipment to replace the old facilities that were otherwise wearing out.

They also took into consideration the cost of maintenance for the locks and dams and as a result they chose their materials appropriately and with a lot of caution. As discussed earlier, only two of the old structures are in operation today. These two must have been strong, resilient and very resistant to harsh conditions such as corrosion and abrasion (Ballard, 1998).

Despite the fact that the Army Corp of Engineers had maintenance in their mind, the report from their research laboratory compiled by Tim Race, Vince Hock and Al Beitel (cited in Kleber, 2001) showed that the distinctiveness of the new dams developed design difficulties that caused maintenance problems. For instance, “it was found that the water flowing through the tainter gates of the new dams had a velocity of over 35 ft per second,” (Kleber, 2001. p. 17).

To add to this it was also noted that large amounts of debris majorly logs that had wider feet in diameter generally flew down the river. Underwater baffles were situated down the stream from each tainter gate for the purpose of doing away with turmoil downstream from new dams. These baffles were found to make a hydraulic effect against the downstream tainter skin plates (Walter, 2000).

The Corp Engineers also found out that the strong water velocity combined with river debris and suspended water particles like river salt led to a very abrasive environment within the river. As a result, in this kind of environment the engineers’ vinyl coating meant to protect the locks and dams got eroded very quickly. It is noted that substrate corrosion and coating failure naturally took place at a short period of between one to two years.

This abrasion problem is more serious on the Ohio River locks and dams facilities. On the contrary, the Corps’ vinyl paint system on the Mississippi river is very long lasting. As a result, the abrasion on the Mississippi river is mainly caused by the flow of ice during winter.

The engineers “estimated the abrasion at Greenup locks and dams on the Ohio River at fifteen times more serious than the typical Mississippi river dams due to the different specific model features of Ohio and Mississippi river dams,” (Walter, 200, p. 33). The Corps’ vinyl was originally used in the 1950’s along the Mississippi river. It was a combination of a red lead vinyl prim or with vinyl intermediate and a top coat system.

This was not reapplied on the twenty third lock and dam at Hannibal MO until 1981. The outcome was that the inside parts of this gate did not undergo abrasion and was taken for inspection and returned to service immediately without being repainted.

It can be concluded that the twenty third gate at Hannibal was used as a control experiment by the engineers to find out the quality and longevity of the vinyl coating. Following are the explanations of the procedures the Corps of Engineers followed in selecting coatings and sealers for their evaluation.

Also discussed is the way they applied some of the individual coating and the composition of each coating. This is useful information because it tells how the Corps of Engineers came up with their vinyl coating. It also gives a hint of how intelligent they were.

For them to come up with such calculations they must have gone through an advanced institution of learning, contrary to common belief that most corps are nothing but school dropouts. The evaluation procedure was a bit intense as revealed from the Corps of Engineers report (cited in Kraman, 1998). The report says that they chose eight metalized coatings and sealer systems for the examination.

These were coated with thermal spray materials which included: aluminum-bronze alloy which was made by mixing 89 percent of copper (Cu), 10 percent aluminum (Al) and 1 percent iron (Fe): stainless steel (in composition stainless steel has 18 percent chromium (Cr), 8 percent nickel (Ni), and its major component, iron (Fe) with a percentage of about 74); zinc–aluminum alloy which is made up of 85 percent zinc (Zn) mixed with 15 percent aluminum whose chemical formula is written above; and pure zinc which is used in its molten form.

Maintenance of the Locks and Dams

In order to identify the quality and quantify of the extent of maintenance problems found on the locks and dams facilities along the Ohio River, the Corp Engineers conducted a survey of the performance of various metal coating and sealers.

Briefly put the locks and dams were maintained by coating with alloys of different metals and other purely molten metals. These were chosen based on their degree of adhesion, hardness, commercial availability and corrosion resistance.

The metals and alloys used include: stainless steel which was chosen because it has high corrosion resistance to fresh water, salt water and chemical solutions; zinc which has a long history of being used as a metalizing material; and aluminum–bronze alloy which is known to have an outstanding corrosion resistance and abrasion resistance nature.

The Effects of the Locks and Dams on Recreation

Apart from earlier mentioned reasons for constructing the locks and dams, the dams also create recreation like boating and others. On the available twenty eight thousand locks and dams for use, recreation activities such as the ones listed below take place:

  • Use of inter reservoirs by long distance recreations
  • Water bound snowboarding
  • Tour vessels and tourists opportunities
  • Water transport opportunities for commodities such as grains, chemicals, iron and steel and forest products (this is as cited in Griffes, 2004)
  • From the recreation and tourism data obtained from Blue Rock state park in Muskin County’s annual use of locks and dams on the river, the locks’ usage are categorized as below:
    • Lock boaters: this phrase refers to the number of people in the boats going through the locks.
    • Other boaters: this phrase describes the people who launch from the boat tramps on the pool but do not use the locks.
    • Fishermen: these are mostly the people who carry out fishing activities in the rivers but do not use the locks. They may fish from boats or along river banks.
    • Picnickers: these are people who are on picnic activities.
    • Visitors: mostly local and international tourists who want to explore the locks and dam (Kleber, 2001).
    • There are also riverside businesses such as resorts, campgrounds, access ramps, marinas, swimming pleasure boating, hunting and wild life observation (Ballard, 1998).

Further recreation and other positive effects of the locks and dams can be examined by looking at the activities that take place at the Little Goose lock and dams on the Snake River that has its confluence in Columbia River.

The locks and dams on this river “provide navigation, incidental irrigation, hydroelectric generation as well as recreation,” (Ballard, 1998, p. 67). It is a multipurpose project and has a dam, powerhouse, and navigation lock and fish passage facilities. The engineers started its construction in June 1963 and started to use it in May 1970.

The powerhouse in this lock and dam generates 810 megawatts of electricity and an area estimated at 5,398 acres of land around the river and surrounding Lake Bryan is used for public recreation, wildlife habitat, wildlife mitigation and other water-related industrial developments.

In as much as the locks and dams have very significant effects, the Corps of Engineer had to evaluate the safety of these facilities to make sure that no life was lost as a result of using them.

Therefore they carried out a survey of all the locks and dam facilities in the country and devised a safety plan for them. They tried their level best to ensure that these structures were safe for use. They came up with a safety program that had basic public safety as their main priority. They assessed it on the river’s probability of low, medium or high safety issues.

This method also involved ways of developing and implementing interim risk reduction measures that decreased the certainty or consequences of unacceptable performance. They were meant to decrease short term issues to public safety as the Corps worked on long term solution to these risks. The Corps undertook and is still undertaking several measures to maximize public safety. These measures include:

  • The construction of a navigation gate and floating bulkhead placement and operation plan
  • The updating of the emergency action plans
  • The execution of a complete spillway hydrology and hydraulic study
  • The creation of inundation maps in electronic forms
  • The execution of emergency exercises
  • Carrying out a potential failure mode test (Walter, 2000)


From the introduction, history and discussion it can be concluded that the construction of locks and dams by the US Army Corp Engineers was a noble thing to do. It has brought a lot of good things to the American citizens such as job opportunities for fishermen and boaters. It has also earned foreign exchange for the country from tourists who come to see the locks and dams.

People also enjoy many more leisure activities and the locks and dams also keep the country in check and out of worry of flooding. As a result, the idea of the construction of the locks and dams should be extended to other countries of the world faced by challenges of flooding and other environmental degradations due to heavy flooding from heavy rains.

Reference List

Ballard, J. (1998). The history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Michigan: DIANE Publishing.

Griffes, P. (2004). Pacific boating almanac 2004: Pacific Northwest. New York: ProStar Publications.

Kleber, J. (2001). The encyclopedia of Louisville: volume 2000. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

Kraman, M. (1998). Ports ’98: conference proceedings: volume 2. New York: American Society of Civil Engineers.

Walter, W. (2000). Safety engineering and risk analysis, 2000: presented at the 2000 ASME International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition. Washington, D.C.: American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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