Water is the life blood of any city, but its systems are not always pretty. So the two-million-gallon Forest Park Low Tank was embedded into the hillside to preserve the natural character of the area and leave unfettered views. However, this presented engineering challenges. Overcoming those challenges helped us win a 2017 Grand Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC).
Wait—What’s Down There?
The subsurface conditions were quite unusual. Maps showed them as hard volcanic rock, but our geotechnical explorations discovered a new volcanic vent, as yet unmapped. Although of great interest to geologists, volcanic vents are rarely built on. A search of case histories did not find any information to guide the process. We embarked upon an exploration and laboratory testing program to determine if the 100-foot plus pile of cinders would support the tank. We determined that the cinders were fairly uniform across the area, resulting in uniform support for the tank. Our testing further determined the magnitude of loading the cinders could support. With this information we were able to design a foundation that did not require expensive subgrade improvements or pile foundations.
Our high-tech analyses confirmed a low-tech approach would work.
In many places, water tanks are constructed within large cuts that many may view as eyesores and which permanently remove natural habitat. This has been accepted over decades as a necessary compromise to provide a robust water supply to our cities. However, this compromise does not need to be accepted. Much like the trend of burying power, communications, and other utilities that were once also overhead, the Forest Park Low Tank demonstrates that water infrastructure can be adapted similarly.
Making the Water Supply Safe
Water is a critical resource in any disaster that disrupts our infrastructure. It’s common knowledge that we cannot survive for more than three days without water. During any natural disaster, it is imperative that our water remain safe and accessible. We completed a site specific seismic hazard (SSSH) as part of our work, so the tank and appurtenant facilities will withstand the next “Big One.”
Sometimes ingenuity is not devising something new, but applying simple methods to solve a problem. We used performance-based results to guide changes in shoring design, and confirmed landslide mitigation approaches during construction. We avoided designing expensive foundation alternatives, installing bulletproof (and expensive) secant shoring walls, and over-analyzing slope stability prior to construction. And then we buried our best work.
The one thing to remember about this project is that we did not blow our top over an unexpected volcanic vent; instead, we persevered and worked with the design and construction teams to build a successful project…and then buried it out of “site.”