Coffee Break: Episode 10

To celebrate Earth Science Week, hear from Tony as he talks about how hydraulics play a role in almost every project and the importance of planning ahead to manage flooding. Spoiler alert: it’s extremely important!

TR: For site development, it’s similar to that, but you’re really looking at both conveying it away from high-value properties or from houses and also um… scratch that. Let’s…

Coffee Break Episode 10 – Hydraulics

Name and position at Bolton & Menk, and how do you take your coffee?

TR: I’m Tony Rotchadl, I’m a project engineer with our transportation group. It depends how I take my coffee. If it’s bad coffee, I’ll take it with cream and sugar. If it’s good coffee, I can just drink it black. Either way I’m going to have some coffee, though, every morning.

TR: Yeah, Keurig’s a little too high class for me. I just… straight out of the pot.

So… what’s hydraulics?

TR: Hydraulics is really just the conveyance of fluids. In this instance, we’re talking about stormwater runoff, but it can be potable water or drinkable water, it can be sanitary sewer, it can be oil, it can be any sort of fluid. Hydraulics is really the conveyance of any fluid. When it comes to stormwater, we need to figure out how much water we need to convey to design a hydraulic system. How we figure that out is called hydrology. Hydrology is really just how the water that comes from the sky interacts with the land, so a certain amount of water drops down onto the ground, a certain amount of it gets soaked up, and the rest of it runs off. We’re interested in that runoff piece and that’s how we design our hydraulic systems.

Why is hydraulics an important thing to consider when planning for projects?

TR: When you’re planning projects, a lot of times hydraulics, you know, if nobody asks any questions about hydraulics, it’s a good thing because that means there’s really no flooding. The key to project development is understanding hydraulic components early. From a transportation perspective or maybe a linear roadway perspective, a lot of times hydraulics means you have to get ponding locations set up and you might have to buy some land to do that. So understanding that early in project development is critical in making sure you identify the land you need for acquisitions or maybe working with other partners to work with their stormwater needs as well.

We’re getting into fall flooding season; what role do hydraulics play to prevent fall flooding?

TR: Well, hydraulics is really all about managing flooding. It’s tough to prevent flooding because there’s always going to be a storm that we didn’t design for. Obviously, we could design for any storm imaginable, but the costs are very prohibitive when you do that. It’s really about managing the flooding. Our storm sewer systems are designed for a certain event – above and beyond that, we really want to rely on the roads to convey water. It’s a little backwards to think of, but you’d rather have water on the roads than you would have in your basement or in buildings. So really managing flooding is the key, not necessarily preventing it. We know it’s going to flood, Mother Nature, she’s a wild gal sometimes, so we know stuff’s going to flood, it’s all about managing it and making sure we minimize our risks.

Let me look at my notes and see if I missed anything I want to talk about… we’ll see how your editing skills are, Tony.

This week is Earth Science Week. Why is environmental engineering important to you?

TR: Hydraulics and environmental engineering go hand-in-hand. Maybe a couple generations ago, hydraulics was really about preventing flooding and that’s it. Nowadays, we’re not only looking at not only preventing flooding, but really treating the stormwater, too. There’s been a big push in the last 20 plus years to clean up the water, specifically the stormwater. I think the younger generation, like my kids, they’re asking questions about “let’s keep the water clean” and “why isn’t the water clean?” It’s really our responsibility as hydraulics engineers to both manage the flooding and also treat the water, too, so we can enjoy all of our environmental resources we have.

Any other things you want people to know about hydraulics?

TR: If you’re somebody that’s maybe interested in engineering and you’re in school, hydraulics really, you get to touch a lot of different aspects of engineering. If you’re building a dam, obviously there’s the hydraulic component to the dam, but you also have to work with the structural people to make sure the dam doesn’t fail. Hydraulics also, like I said, it conveys water, but with that, it can cause erosion as well. You have to understand soil science and stuff like that to make sure that any solutions we prescribe don’t cause a bigger problem by creating erosion. I think hydraulics is really just, it’s a great field if you really want to be involved in all aspects of civil engineering. Your finger is going to be touching a lot of different projects if you’re in hydraulics. If you’re a young person that’s interested in engineering, I’d strongly have you consider hydraulics as something that gives you a well-rounded, meaningful career.

TR: Enjoy your day, everybody! Thanks for watching!

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