They’re not quite the Hoover Dam, or even the lock and dam system along the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.
But for Pittsburgh International Airport, the two earthen dams that protect the airfield from flooding and manage storm water runoff are extremely important.
“The water that flows off of the airfield is slowed by the dams before leaving airport property,” said Kevin Gurchak, Vice President of Sustainability and Natural Resources.
As the remnants of Hurricane Florence pepper the region with rain Monday and Tuesday, the two dams – the Taxiway Echo Dam and the Midfield Dam – will be doing their part to contain the water.
“If the Taxiway Echo Dam failed, we’d lose the south side of the airfield (for takeoffs and landings),” Gurchak said.
The Echo Dam was built to coincide with the opening of Greater Pittsburgh International Airport in 1952 and measures more than a quarter-mile thick. The smaller Midfield Dam (about 50 feet thick) was constructed in the late 1980s, just before the opening of PIT in 1992.
“Our field maintenance crews mow the grass surfaces at least twice a year so we can inspect for cracks in the dams,” Gurchak said. “They also clean the outlet structure four to eight times a year to remove debris that would potentially clog the structure.”
In addition to the dams, the airport maintains multiple other storm water retention ponds to help control water runoff.
“If the levels are filling up that means we’re managing the waterways for our neighbors downstream,” said Ben Shertzer, airport wildlife administrator.