Huntsville Center’s Braun works to save Mosul Dam

Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville Public Affairs
Published May 19, 2017

He’s a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with a history of stepping up to lend a hand after American communities face the worst.

Now Chad Braun, a civilian civil engineer and senior project engineer with the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, is deployed thousands of miles from home to engage in a fight to prevent the worst from happening.

While the Iraqi government fights to take back the city of Mosul, the most crucial battle is likely occurring more than 30 miles upstream from the northern Iraqi city’s center along the Tigris River.

It’s there Braun labors with fellow U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ teammates, contractors and others to prevent a dam failure of catastrophic consequences well beyond the humanitarian crisis unfolding a few miles to the south.

“I am very proud that I am able to support the project utilizing my skillset that I have developed throughout my USACE career,” Braun replied via email.  “It is rewarding to know that I am helping make a difference here at Mosul Dam.”

 Since 2005 Braun has volunteered and deployed to support recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina, the Alabama tornado outbreak of 2011, flooding in Texas, and most recently flooding in Louisiana, according to Jeffery Davis, Huntsville Center Emergency Management Specialist and Deployment Coordinator.

 Braun says it’s the support he receives from family and in particular his wife that allows him to lend a hand when others need it.

“My wife has been very supportive of my carrier opportunities, and she does the most important work back home taking care of our family while I am out trying to help others,” Braun said.

Braun is one of more than a dozen USACE team members designated the Mosul Dam Task Force as an element of the Army Corps’ Transatlantic Division. The Iraqi government asked the U.S. to allow USACE to serve as their engineer on the project on the behalf of its Ministry of Water Resources.

When it comes to disaster recovery efforts, Davis said Braun is often selected by name.

“Chad is one of our go to guys,” Davis said. “His willingness to step up and go is far beyond his normal call to duty and second to none. He is a pretty special person who is really making a difference.”

The difference is between the continued life-sustaining flow of water or the sudden collapse of an earth-filled structure releasing a devastating torrent of water to all points downstream.

By USACE calculations, dam failure would produce a 39-to 50-foot wave of water that would hit Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, in less than four hours. The wave would continue south along the Tigris impacting people and places for more than two days before crashing through Baghdad at a height between 10 and 20 feet.

The potential for loss of life and property destruction was described as “Biblical” by a hydrologist and humanitarian coordinator in a January United Nations News Service release. And USACE classifies the largest dam in Iraq and the fourth largest in the Middle East with “very high urgency.”

USACE estimates a Mosul Dam failure can result in 400,000 lives lost, an economic loss of $20 billion, and create a regional stability and security crisis well beyond the manmade variety.

The dam was built in 1984 on water soluble rock that has deteriorated over time as water forced its way under the structure. As the rock absorbed water, it began to crack and collapse leaving voids inside the dam that have drastically reduced its ability to hold back an estimated 9 million acre-feet of water.

One acre-foot is approximately a football field covered in 1 foot of water. A continually weakened Mosul Dam strains to hold back the force of these 9 million water soaked football fields every day.

The urgency under which Braun and his cohorts work is not lost on them. But Braun says it’s the importance of this project that makes his time and effort all the more worthwhile.

“It is rewarding to know that I play a role in repairing the dam because if the dam failed it would have an enormous negative impact on the local economy and the potential for large number of fatalities,” Braun said. “The local citizens are very appreciative of the work we are doing to stabilize the dam. The work we are doing is very important to the country of Iraq.”

 The immediate repair solution is “grouting” on a massive scale. Workers drill holes more than 500 feet in depth into rock near voids in the dam and fill it with a grout solution of cement, water and sometimes sand to fill the holes and stabilize the dam.

Braun’s role is to review and troubleshoot critical items related to the $300 million contract negotiated between the Iraqi Government and the Italian engineering company tasked with making the repairs.

“A majority of my time is spent reviewing pay estimates as this is a cost reimbursement contract and requires great attention to detail to ensure costs are allowable, allocable and reasonable for the project,” Braun said.

Cost reimbursable contracts present unique challenges. The contract isn’t negotiated for a fixed price but rather to “… establish an estimate of total cost for the purpose of obligating funds and establishing a ceiling that the contractor may not exceed,” according to a U.S. government acquisition web site.

As the senior office/project engineer, Braun works directly with the chief of contract administration to make sure all the crucial project requirements are being executed and billed correctly on behalf of the Iraqi Government.

Army Corps efforts to support the shoring up of Mosul Dam are also taking place stateside. Nashville District’s Civil Design Branch provided training seminars on innovative Geographic Information System models to visiting engineers from Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources in March.

But the work Braun and his USACE team are doing is about more than totals on a spreadsheet. They are far from home, working seven days a week to save a structure that can either provide life or extinguish it.

It’s the ability to make a difference that motivates Braun to keep raising his hand and saying “I’ll go” during times of crisis.

“The reason I volunteer to deploy or assist in these types of situations is knowing that the work I am doing is making a positive impact in people’s lives,” Braun said. “Whether it be a team executing a recovery mission so that the affected people and communities can start to rebuild and move forward with recovery or helping stabilize a dam to help prevent potential catastrophes,  at the end of the day I can look back on know that the effort I put forth helped make a difference.”