DBP Electrical Consulting Participates in a VE Study for the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

In ramblings by David Parden

In April of 2013 DBP Electrical Consulting was invited to participate by Value Management Stratigies to a VE study in Chicago for the U.S Army Corps of Engineer’s electric barrier system IIA and IIB on the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The barrier was developed to keep Asian Carp from reaching the Great Lakes via the Mississippi River which would be catastrophic for the lake’s ecology and the surrounding areas economy. 


According to the National Wildlife Federation “Asian Carp are fast-growing, aggressive and adaptable fish that are out competing native fish species for food and habitat in much of the mid-section of the United States. Asian carp were introduced into Southern fish farm ponds in the 1970s and quickly spread across the United States. They are now on the verge of invading the Great Lakes”. 

Project History 

Smith-Root was engaged to design and construct a permanent barrier across the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. The final design split the permanent barrier into two parts IIA and IIB. IIA was funded and began construction in 2006. Essentially complete by 2006, the barrier started regular service in 2009. 

This project included a large amount of specialty electrical work. An array of electrodes was installed underwater, and a large backup generator built to keep the system from shutting down. Equipment includes pulsators, power supplies, extensive bus bars, as well as monitors and controls. The pulsators are cooled by a custom built heat exchanger that uses water from the canal. 

The final design split the permanent barrier into two parts IIA and IIB. IIA was funded and began construction in 2006. Electrodes for both IIA and IIB were installed in the 2A contract. They consisted of bundled billets of steel 5 inches x 5 inches flash‐butt welded on site, and lowered onto concrete sleepers. IIA has a wide array 66 feet long targeted at large fish, and an adjacent narrow array 38 feet long with a higher field strength for smaller fish. Three pulsators provide redundancy. 

Particular challenges were the size of the canal, the need for a long field because of the barges, high and variable conductivity of the canal water, canal water temperatures, and the unavailability of the canal walls because of barge movements. The pulsators required large power supply system and custom electronic switches that were cooled by water circulated from the canal through heat exchangers. 

Excerpt from Smith-Root website 

Purpose of Study 

The study was commissioned to examine suggested solutions to problems with the barriers. Since becoming operational in 2009 the barriers have experienced a series of electrical power issues that have compromised confidence in the ability to provide a continuous electrical barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. Power issues include: 

  • Loss of Utility Power
  • Poor Backup Generator Performance
  • Lack of Power Supply During Transitions from Utility Power to Generator Power
  • Power Quality Issues (Low Power Factor, Flicker, and Harmonic Distortion)

This was my first trip to Chicago and having never participated in such a formal VE study I was not sure what to expect and felt quite nervous.  The study was scheduled to last four days, Monday through Thursday so I arrived on Sunday afternoon flying into Chicago O’Hare. We had rooms right in the heart of downtown Chicago at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel. A very nice place I might add! The Lobby reminded me of Caesars Palace in Vegas. 

Chicago Skyline

The Chicago Skyline

The VE team consisted of the VMS team leader, his assistant, two electrical engineers, and myself, the electrical cost estimator

On Monday we spent the first half of the day getting familiar with the project and at times I felt overwhelmed with the complexity of it. There were no engineered drawings to look at only pictures and narratives. After lunch we did a function analysis and identified project issues. My role the first day was limited to mainly taking in the information presented. 

Tuesday was my favorite part of the study. It was the day we brainstormed on ways to add value and reduce cost. At times it was light and humorous. I mean it’s hard to be too and stiff when you’re talking about stopping jumping Asian Carp even though it is a very serious issue! We ended the day evaluating the ideas we came up with in the morning. My idea of poisoning the canal in event of a barrier failure didn’t make the cut. I didn’t see the problem since the canal already looked pretty toxic to me. 

On Wednesday it was time to develop the ideas that we came up with on the previous day. Some of the ideas were simply written suggestions others were more developed with potential cost impact assigned to them. 

The final day, Thursday was dedicated to preparing for and presenting the study findings. The night before Chicago had experienced heavy rain and many of the Corps staff was on flood watch so the presentation was limited which was fine with me. Normally I am an outspoken person but for whatever reason during the presentation I developed my first case of stage fright. Lucky for me the team leader Mark Watson seamlessly bailed me out and for that I will be eternally grateful to him! 

The trip ended with a ride on the Chicago L train to a hotel near Chicago O’Hare airport where I spent the night and caught a morning flight back to Denver. I can honestly say I was never so happy to be back in Colorado. Chicago is an interesting place to visit but there is no way I would want to live there. Denver is way more laid back and less formal. That suits me just fine!