Rain and Slope Stability

Rainy, wet roadsIn the last several weeks Southern California has received much needed rain, helping to alleviate the state’s drought conditions. It’s critically important to our ecosystem that we get enough rainfall each year. However, it can be devastating to property owners and to public areas, especially if a property is not properly prepared to handle large amounts of it. Areas of concern can range from water intrusion into buildings to unstable slopes becoming mud slides. Continue reading

Oroville Dam Engineering: What Happened?

The California Department of Water Resources stopped the spillway flow on Thursday morning to allow engineers to evaluate the integrity of the structure after water had been released at 20,000 cubic feet per second through the night.

(Courtesy of the California Department of Water Resources).

Last week California’s Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, almost failed due to a surplus of water filling Lake Oroville. As the lake filled higher and higher, water was being released, via spillways, into the Feather River. The volume of water caused erosion of the dam’s main spillway, causing it to crater and break apart. As a result, the dam’s emergency spillway began to erode. That spillway had never been used and was unlined. The lack of concrete lining may have led to its erosion as well.

Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated from the area, many of them fleeing to higher ground cities like Sutter. As the water began to recede, residents began to travel back home.

But what went wrong? What caused the damage in the first place? Continue reading

Aerial Cranes and Properties with Poor Construction Equipment Access

Helicopter Transport in Construction and EngineeringA few days ago, I saw a report on the global crane market forecast for 2017 through 2024. It got me thinking about the different types of cranes that I have used in my career. Especially aerial cranes. Aerial cranes are great because they can be used to move large loads in areas that are hard to access and they can do so at a fraction of the price of a traditional crane. They also do not require the set up and tear down process that a traditional crane requires.

Sometimes we get asked to work on properties that are difficult to access. This could include a property that is in a remote area, on a small parcel with limited access due to surrounding properties or buildings, or in mountainous areas.    Continue reading

Preparing Your Property for Severe Weather and Its Aftermath

ThunderstormsDuring the Thanksgiving holiday the Southland got a little more relief from our record-breaking drought conditions. While it’s important that we get enough rain to hopefully end our dry conditions and restore our groundwater levels, it’s also important to keep people and properties safe during and after rainstorms.

Areas of particular concern are slope stability and water intrusion. When an area has been particularly dry, slope stability issues can threaten properties in and around the slope. Unstable slopes can move very slowly or very quickly, and lead to property foundation issues as well as safety hazards. This is especially true for burn areas where the plants and trees have been destroyed and the integrity of the soil has been undermined.

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How to Deal With Rising Sea Levels on Your Coastal Property

Coastal ErosionProtecting properties on coastal parcels is critical, especially as we start to see much of our nation’s coastal areas affected by rising sea levels. Higher sea levels are allowing the tides to carry away much of the natural defenses and sands that keep properties and beaches protected from the oceans, especially during heavy coastal storms. In fact, some coastal communities are running out of beach sand due to global warming.

What can coastal property owners do to protect themselves? The answer is installing or improving existing seawalls. A bulkhead, also known as a seawall, helps prevent erosion of land area or damage to structures by placing a barrier between the sea and land. Seawalls protect properties and beaches against damage from wind, wave and ice forces. They may feature curved or flat-facing surfaces, and can be comprised of gravity retaining walls, cantilever retaining walls, and pile-supported retaining walls. New seawalls are commonly constructed of concrete, but older seawalls included materials like stone, an excellent buffer against wave energy. Continue reading

6 Common Questions from Property Owners

Frequently Asked Questions KeyboardEver noticed something about your home, office or property and thought: “That doesn’t seem quite right …” Unfortunately, many property owners get spooked and think that easy-to-correct problems will be mandatory, costly or difficult to solve. If the problem is allowed to worsen, it can lead to bigger problems down the road and bigger headaches for the property owner. As an added problem, a diagnosis from the wrong party can also lead to unnecessary repairs if that person is not an engineering expert. The best course of action is to deal with problems right away by asking the right expert and asking the right questions.

Below you’ll find some common questions we get from our clients and their answers. Continue reading

Engineering Using Google Earth

EarthIf you’ve ever used Google Earth, you know it’s amazing mapping tool from Google, the search engine company, that can help you find out all sorts of really neat geographic details about your property, neighborhood, city or region – and even the whole Earth. It’s such a useful tool that Google Earth is used in everything from the classroom to the board room.

At Helfrich-Associates we use Google Earth as a part of many of our projects. It’s a very useful tool that helps us plan our investigations and determine relevant conditions on a job site.

Let’s take a general look at how we use Google Earth for some of our work and how we used it for one real-world project. Continue reading

Avoiding Surface Water Drainage Issues

Avoid Surface Water Drainage Issues with a Gutter SystemStanding water can ruin a property and pose serious issues to a community’s health. It can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mosquitos, and can lead to structural issues for buildings on the property. There can also be issues for adjoining properties, which can in turn will draw the ire of neighbors and possibly result in increased litigation risks. If you’ve ever had a property that has issues with surface water drainage, then you know full well the damage and headache it can cause.

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Is Rotten Wood Ruining Your Property’s Structures?

Fence with Wood RotEven in drought-stricken Southern California wood rot caused by water is damaging structures on both commercial and residential property. Rotten wood caused by moisture can be easy to miss, especially when the seasons have been as dry as they have been over the last 10 years. It’s also easy to put off the repairs – for some of us the drought makes dealing with wood rot seem like a back burner project. It’s easy to ignore the problem when we aren’t expecting wet weather.

Water-caused rot develops when moisture lingers on wooden surfaces that are unprotected. The lack of protection happens when wooden structures are not repainted regularly or resealed after a period of time. The moisture will settle into unprotected cracks and crevices and that creates a fantastic environment for fungi – the real culprit of the wood rot. Wood rot only needs 20 percent moisture content to live. That means it can show up in all but the most arid temperature zones. Continue reading