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RTI experts work to improve dam safety in a changing climate

As extreme rainfall events increase, new web application will help communities evaluate existing infrastructure

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – A changing climate is impacting the frequency of extreme rainfall events increasing the vulnerability of flood-related risks to many communities. Impoundments, dams and reservoirs can provide critical flood control benefits but are also susceptible to damage or failure under extreme rain events. To provide actionable information for decision making, RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, has acquired MetPortal, an interactive web application that provides storm information for enhanced flood modeling. 

“The acquisition of MetPortal is a great addition to RTI’s arsenal of extreme precipitation tools,” said Michael Kane, director of RTI’s Center for Water Resources. “MetPortal provides a straightforward way to estimate point and watershed-based precipitation frequency for very rare events as well as probable maximum precipitation – events that dam safety experts and spillway designers are concerned about.” 

States and utility regulators require that infrastructure (culverts, bridges, dams, etc.) is designed and built to withstand rare rainfall events and associated flooding. MetPortal plays a crucial role in facilitating watershed modeling to gauge the adequacy of spillway capacity for existing dams as well as the planning of new dams, dikes, and river crossings. The robust outputs provided can be utilized within a framework that prioritizes risk-informed decision-making. 

According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, water overflow known as hydrologic overtopping is the primary cause for dam failure. With 91,804 dams in the U.S., most have limited information regarding the potential for overtopping. 

MetPortal helps improve the modeling of severe floods by providing accurate information about storm precipitation characteristics. The application helps estimate how likely it is for the greatest expected rainfall to occur at a location. This helps State Dam Safety programs prioritize projects and evaluate risks. 

Kane added, “MetPortal can determine the extreme rainfall amounts in a specific location during the design and engineering process. This facilitates the analysis of risks to existing structures essentially improving dam safety in local communities.” 

State leaders in Colorado, New Mexico, and British Columbia are currently using MetPortal.  

Learn more about MetPortal  

Learn more about RTI’s Center for Water Resources (CWR) 

Learn more about RTI’s hydrologic risk assessment work 

Learn more about CWR's water monitoring and forecasting capabilities