News | Mar 21, 2020

23 states listed in NOAA flood warning. Could this umbrella-like invention protect their levees?

TechLink is searching for a company to license the sand boil filter invented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

An emergency levee is built along the Red River of the North during the 2010 spring flood fight.

Mike DeRusha/USACE

As state and local governments scramble to contain the coronavirus pandemic, warm temperatures in the Rockey Mountains mean Midwest states are preparing for another problem: flooding.

NOAA forecasters on Thursday predicted, “major to moderate flooding is likely in 23 states from the Northern Plains south to the Gulf Coast, with the most significant flood potential in parts of North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.”

Tens of millions of Americans are protected from floodwaters by levees, earthen dams that hold water back from homes and businesses.

There are 8,606 levee systems in the U.S, spanning 27,817 miles, according to the National Levee Database. The average age of those levees is 56 years old.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages about half of those levees, and in a 2018 report, said: “Nearly 17% of the portfolio has been identified to perform poorly due to embankment and/or foundation seepage.”

That seepage under a levee can resurface as a phenomenon known as a sand boil, and two researchers have invented a new tool to stop their dangerous expansion.

Isaac Stephens and Bryant Robbins at the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center designed an umbrella-shaped screening device to stuff down into the boil.

The filter can “prevent sand boils from growing while relieving the underground hydrostatic pressure that created the sand boil in the first place and inhibiting subterranean erosion that can cause [the] failure of a nearby levee,” according to U.S. Patent 10,519,617, issued to the Army on Dec. 31, 2019.

Patent illustration of the Army Corps of Engineer’s sand-boil filter.

The arms are attached to the primary shaft with spring-tensioned expandable restraints so that the mesh filter can be opened after insertion into the boil, making it quick and easy to deploy.

The alternative is to keep stacking sandbags around sand boils, an extremely time and labor-intensive process.

Airmen from the Missouri Air National Guard lay sandbags around a sand boil in Elwood, Kansas in 2019. (Abe Forney)

The Corps’ invention creates a manufacturing opportunity for businesses. By licensing the intellectual property rights from the Army, private companies can commercialize the sand boil filter.

TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary for technology transfer, is ready to help entrepreneurs evaluate the invention and navigate the licensing process.

Quinton King, senior technology manager, is spearheading the licensing effort.

“In addition to the people and homes, our levees protect vital infrastructure like roads, schools, and hospitals,” King said. “Perhaps now more than ever, we’ve got to prepare and defend our communities.”


Contact Quinton King at quinton.king@montana.edu or by telephone at 406-994-7795.