•  Carrier


Delivering Value to the Nation

The Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is using innovative project management processes to find success with two Civil Works projects that have faced major regulatory and environmental challenges. 


By Lt. Col. Kevin J. Lovell, PMP, M.SAME, USA


  The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal Electric Barrier is critical to protecting the Great Lakes and Mississippi River Basins from aquatic invasive species, while facilitating commercial transportation on the canal.


For the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), two ongoing projects in the western suburbs of Chicago epitomize the value of Civil Works infrastructure to the economy, the environment and the nation. Achieving success with these complex projects, which have undergone numerous legislative, authorization and funding changes, has demanded Chicago District to incorporate groundbreaking project management methods, including innovative planning processes to reduce risk and advanced change management and scope-of-work refinement processes to deliver cutting-edge facilities that increase return on investment.

The Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal (CSSC) Electric Barrier is a critical component in reducing the risk of transfer of Asian Carp from the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes while facilitating commercial transportation on the canal. This project, located southwest of Chicago, helps protect several industries, including the $4 billion per year recreational fishing industry. It also supports tug and barge transportation that moves 10-million-T of cargo through the barrier.

Just north, in Chicago’s western suburbs, the McCook Reservoir connects to the tunnel portion of the Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, a system designed to address historical flooding in the area. When completed, the McCook Reservoir will hold up to 10-billion-gal of combined sewer overflow that is produced during area high volume rain events. The project will prevent $100 million in damages annually. 


the Sanitary District of Chicago built the CSSC in 1900 to address disease concerns from fresh water contamination caused by Chicago River sanitary flow to the fresh water intakes. The CSSC reversed the river’s flow and created a water based pathway that eventually leads to the Mississippi River watershed. This effort connected Chicago, home of the nation’s largest rail hub, with states on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.

Nearly 100 years later, Congress passed the National Invasive Species Act in 1996. This legislation addressed potential migration of aquatic invasive species between the watersheds and gave Chicago District an opportunity to develop solutions to answer a growing national security concern. The district’s first innovation was to organize a team to define the problem and develop potential solutions. The Barrier Advisory Team, with members and experts from the public and private sector and academia, recommended construction of an electric, non-physical barrier.

The next innovation was the use of existing standard and proprietary control technology in a way never used before. Smith-Root Inc. had previously paired its proprietary control technology with existing electrical elements to create a pulsed electric field. Chicago District awarded the company a fully federally-funded contract to construct a Demonstration Barrier in FY2000. This proof of principle project was operational in 2002, and pushed the envelope of non-physical barrier concepts and technology. No one had used technology in this manner or on this scale. While other electric barriers existed, none tackled this magnitude of an area underwater using pulsed electrical current through electrodes to create an in water electric field across the 202-ft width by 24-ft depth cross section. 



In the early 2000s, the State of Illinois requested a second larger and more permanent barrier. A prohibition on new projects required Chicago District to use a different acquisition and funding model, which was a significant change. Congress authorized Barrier II through the Continuing Authorities Program in 2005 with Illinois filling the required cost share partner role. Another wrinkle occurred when the partners agreed to construct redundant and independent facilities—now designated as Barrier II A and Barrier II B. USACE awarded a Sole Source Contract to Smith-Root to construct the Barrier II A building and specialized electrical systems. 

Chicago District instituted several technological changes based on lessons learned and independent study by the Illinois Historical Survey and the U.S. Army Engineer Research & Development Center, which suggested an increase in power generation and associated mechanical systems upgrades. While the Demonstration Barrier generated 0.4-MW of power, both Barriers II A and II B generate 1.5-MW. They provide a significant improvement in aquatic invasive species deterrence.



During construction of Barrier II, the first half of the redundancy condition, Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (WRDA). This legislation directed a reversal of the Barrier II project funding back from cost sharing to a fully federally-funded project. This removed Illinois as a funding partner. Barrier II A came on line in April 2009.

WRDA 2007 directed the upgrade of the Demonstration Barrier to a permanent facility, and directed study of the facility’s effectiveness in a deliberate manner. While constructing Barrier II A, Chicago District simultaneously planned Barrier II B, and completed four separate Efficacy Studies (January 2010, April 2010, June 2010, September 2011) and later completed a fifth (September 2015). These identified additional construction projects and changes to the electrical settings, or operating parameters. The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works has approved four of the reports to date and many recommendations have been implemented.

The project managers integrated a 13-mi physical barrier between the CSSC and the Des Plaines River; installation of sluice gate screens at the O’Brien Lock and Dam on the Calumet-Sag Channel; and the barrier facilities’ electric pulses duration, frequency and magnitude. These features increased the deterrence of potential fish passage in the CSSC including improving the system’s effectiveness against smaller fish. The Efficacy Study efforts will continue to reevaluate the district’s ability to protect the Great Lakes and Mississippi River basins.

Chicago District met the desire for system redundancy with the completion of Barrier II B. E.P. Doyle and Son LLC constructed the building, while Smith-Root completed the specialized electrical systems. There are several integrated upgrades over Barrier II A. These include a closed loop cooling system and structural features such as blast doors, to address enhancements identified during Barrier II A’s operation. Barrier II B came on line in April 2011. WRDA also directed the construction of the latest barrier project, Barrier I. USACE again awarded a competitive contract to E.P. Doyle in 2014 to construct the facility building, with an estimated completion date in 2017. Award of the specialized electrical systems is currently pending. This facility represents another leap in capability as Barrier I will produce 4.3-MW of power with additional upgrades to facility structural elements and mechanical systems.



Chicago District completed a Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study in January 2014, laying the groundwork for future solution sets. This study presented a range of technologies and options to deter or prevent aquatic invasive species movement. 

USACE Chicago and Rock Island Districts also continue to examine feasible aquatic nuisance control technologies for the Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Ill. A study is expected to be completed in 2019. Potential technologies may include more sophisticated electric barrier technologies or facilities inside an engineered transportation channel near the lock and dam.



The Chicagoland area has experienced significant population growth beginning around 1840 through today. That growth has led to increased wastewater volume and a loss in permeable area to absorb precipitation. The Tunnel and Reservoir Plan, commissioned in the 1970s, was developed to address the numerous occurrences of serious area flooding over the years.

Congress authorized the McCook Reservoir project in 1988. Prior to construction getting underway, however, legislation in 1996 directed the most significant project change that Chicago District may have ever received: move the reservoir from its original location to a new site. This could have increased the timeline up to nine years and halted simultaneous tunneling efforts. Project managers addressed potential cost and schedule growth with a rarely used Special Re-Evaluation Report process. They detailed a no-cost growth solution and saved four to six years. The project gained its required local sponsor when the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District signed on in 1999.

Construction on the reservoir finally started in 2002. Project management and construction staffs utilized technical subject matter expertise to protect the existing groundwater aquifer. The delivery team integrated upgraded pump hardware in the main tunnel and installed several features in the vertical walls surrounding the entire area. These included a slurry wall and the largest triple row grout curtain in North America. The team used four separate stabilization methods on the reservoir’s vertical slopes: soil nail walls, gabion walls, Geocell, and block retaining walls.

The last pioneering elements are contained in the Final Reservoir Preparation contract, which was awarded in 2015. These include hydraulic structures as well as an aeration system. This last contract should result in Phase 1 completion at the end of 2017 and the initial capacity for 3.6-billion-gal of combined storm and sanitary sewer water overflow. 


The Chicagoland area has experienced significant population growth beginning around 1840 through today. That growth has led to increased wastewater volume and a loss in permeable area to absorb precipitation. 



The McCook Reservoir’s sheer magnitude places it in a class of its own. Stage 1 required the mining of almost 470-million-ft³ and more than 38-million-T of limestone. The concept to build a reservoir by quarrying out this much limestone is rare. Generally, rain water and run-off fill existing limestone quarries to a static level after quarry operations are complete and the servicing pumps are turned off. The Chicago District team designed this facility to support the dynamic flow of massive amounts of combined storm and sanitary water without contaminating area waterways or aquifers. This was done in an area with zero degrees of geographical freedom as the site is constrained by I-55 and the CSSC on the long sides, and a series of sludge drying beds on another.

Upon Congressional authorization, Phase 2 will provide an additional 6.4-billion-gal of storage. Construction can be done while Phase 1 is operational. The required removal of almost 70-million-T of material will provide regional and national impacts that cannot be overstated. It will enhance the quality of life for the nation’s third largest metropolitan area through flood risk reduction and improved water quality.

This $670 million project will mitigate the crippling floods of the last 160 years and pay for itself within six to seven years. The stored combined sewer overflow that previously flowed into area water courses, neighborhoods and residents’ homes will flow to treatment plants prior to release.

The McCook Reservoir will hold up to 10-billion-gal when completed. The project has required the mining of almost 470-million-ft³ and more than 38-million-T of limestone. USACE CHICAGO DISTRICT PHOTOS



The CSSC Barrier Complex and McCook Reservoir represent systematic increases in aquatic invasive species movement deterrence and flood risk reduction. One helps simultaneously protect the Great Lakes while supporting industry and national commerce activities between Lake Michigan and New Orleans. The other will prevent $100 million a year in flood-related and environmental damages.

USACE Chicago District and delivery team project management and technical staffs produced cutting-edge technological, design and process paradigms to address two very complex challenges. These projects have leveraged opportunities to address serious environmental, flood risk management, and water quality challenges for millions of people in the region while protecting the largest available water source in the world. 



Lt. Col. Kevin J. Lovell, PMP, M.SAME, USA, is Deputy Commander, USACE Chicago District; 312-846-5301, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..