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NRCS Engineer of the Year Monitors Potential Inundation Areas Below Watershed Dams in Kansas

Posted by Stephanie Ho, USDA Office of Communications in Conservation
Mar 07, 2023
From L to R: Noller Herbert, NRCS Deputy Chief for Science and Technology; Kevin Farmer, Director, NRCS Engineering Division; Peter Clark, Civil Engineer, Kansas NRCS State Office; Louis Aspey, NRCS Associate Chief

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s 2023 Engineer of the Year, Peter Clark is clear about the importance of what people like him do. Engineers “harness the math, harness the statistics … and apply science” to figure out how to solve a problem, such as building a dam to help capture and slowly release runoff from rainfall events to reduce flooding impacts.

Clark is one of 1252 engineers at NRCS, which is only one of the USDA agencies that employs engineers. He is based in Salina, Kansas, where he is responsible for Hazard Potential Classification Updates for the state’s existing 830 watershed dams. This involves computing inundation zones and evaluating hazards downstream. In other words, his job is to evaluate the relative risk of each dam as if it were to suddenly and catastrophically break open, resulting in a major flood wave that surges downstream.

In 2019, there was a major change to NRCS hazard potential classification policy. After learning newly available modeling methods and evaluating Kansas’s 830 dams in accordance with the new policy, Clark produced an 8-part video series demonstrating new approaches to dam breach analysis and documentation. He made those videos and other materials available nationally within NRCS. He also gave a national presentation to other NRCS engineers about the new methods. He continues to share technical expertise and other resources with his colleagues in other states. Clark’s breach analysis and technical transfer efforts saved USDA at least six million dollars versus outsourcing.

For Clark, there are two reasons he really appreciates being an NRCS engineer, “one agreement that we made as engineers, is that we’re going to look out for the health, the safety, and the welfare of the public,” he said, and added, “As a government engineer, I also double check that we’re using our tax dollars wisely, not throwing our money away at something that’s going to break.”

Engineers are just one of the many professions of the people who work for USDA. This NRCS webpage focuses on how USDA celebrates the diversity of its engineers: NRCS Celebrates our Engineers during Engineers Week - February 19-25th, 2023 | Natural Resources Conservation Service (

Category/Topic: Conservation