Dam Safety & Security

FBI indicts NOAA employee

Xiafen “Sherry” Chen, 59, of Wilmington, Ohio, was indicted in U.S. District Court for allegedly accessing restricted U.S. government files, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Chen, who is a hydrologist currently employed at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) facility in Wilmington, was arrested there Oct. 22.

According to the four-count indictment, Chen “intentionally exceeded authorized access” to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams database and then “willfully and knowingly” stole sensitive and restricted data “involving critical national infrastructure.”

According to published reports, in 2013, U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly traced a breach of a sensitive infrastructure database to the Chinese government. At the time, the U.S. government said the unauthorized user was believed to be from China and hacked into the NID database, according to reports.

If convicted, the theft charge is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine; illegally accessing a U.S. government computer database is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; and for each of the two counts of making materially false statements to federal agents, Chen could serve up to five years in prison and receive a $250,000 fine.

Chen is accused of accessing restricted areas of the NID during May 2012 and then downloading sensitive files. Prosecutors said she provided false information to investigators in June 2013.

The Corps and the National Dam Safety Review Board maintain the database, which consists of dams meeting certain hazard or height criteria. Investigators and prosecutors did not immediately release information for a motive in the security breach.

Hawaii passes dam safety funding legislation

Hawaii approved Amendment 5, an addition to the state’s constitution that authorizes the sale of special purpose revenue bonds meant to fund the improvement or maintenance of dams and reservoirs to current safety standards.

There are 138 dams in the inventory of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), according to the agency. Of those, 77% of the regulated dams are privately owned and 35 regulated dams are owned by government entities (six have been either removed or breached).

A similar measure was defeated by voters in 2012.

The Waita Dam on Kauai is the state’s largest dam and it has a maximum storage of 9,900 acre-feet and a surface area of more than 420 acres. Wahiawa Dam is second largest, with a maximum storage of 9,200 acre-feet and a surface area of about 300 acres.

Alexander Dam, also on Kauai, is the state’s tallest dam with a 113-foot embankment height. Water from this dam is used for irrigation as well as hydropower.

The longest facility, Kualapuu Reservoir — also known as Molokai Reservoir — is of earthen construction and it has a recorded dam embankment of 7,100 feet.

Fire shuts down California hydro

Several hydropower projects in California’s Sierra Nevada shut down temporarily in September due to danger from a giant California wildfire, but no major damage was reported to hydro facilities.

The King Fire is believed to have been started by an arsonist Sept. 13. Per a final report issued Oct. 9, the fire burned more than 97,700 acres in El Dorado and Placer county forests, west of Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border.

The fire caused temporary shutdown of power deliveries from a handful of hydro projects operated by Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Placer County Water Agency and El Dorado Irrigation District.

The 1,037.3-MW Upper American River project includes seven operating hydro developments, plus the recently authorized 400-MW Iowa Hill Pumped-Storage project.

The Auburn, Calif.-based PCWA had critically important power generation, residential, maintenance and storage facilities in the path of the fire. The PCWA board authorized emergency action to procure supplies and manpower to protect and repair any damage to its 223.753-MW Middle Fork American River project.

The agency reported support structures for the project’s 725-kW Hell Hole hydroelectric development appeared intact but still endangered due to unstable fire conditions. A plant operator was evacuated from the development just ahead of the wind-swept fire.

Placerville-based El Dorado Irrigation District reported the fire came within a mile of wooden flumes delivering water to its 21-MW El Dorado hydro project. Although facilities were not damaged, the district evacuated 17 people from its hydropower system headquarters, shutting down its generating system for four days.

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