News | Sep 5, 2019

This new invention keeps sand boils from growing, multiplying, destroying levees

Airmen from the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, lay sandbags around a sand boil in Elwood, Kan., May 31, 2019. The Airmen were assisting local authorities with flood prevention efforts along the levee that protects surrounding communities.

Abe Forney via DVIDS

Update: The Army was issued U.S. Patent 10,0519,617 “Sand Boil Filter” on Dec. 31, 2019.

A pair of researchers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have invented a new tool for dealing with floodwaters tunneling past levees.

When groundwater flows underneath and behind a levee it can eventually surface. Sediment in the flowing water can look like boiling sand, and it indicates erosion that can rapidly destroy nearby levees.

This is a big problem for the Corps of Engineers and your local flood control district who are trying to keep everyone’s house from flooding during natural disasters.

The traditional response has been to trap the water with a ring of sandbags. But again, there are problems.

Sandbagging sand boils is tons of work and in some cases, the water will just pop up in another spot. Think whack-a-mole, extremely labor-intensive whack-a-mole.

Instead of trapping the water around the sand boil, Isaac Stephens and Bryant Robbins at the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center designed a cone-shaped filter to push down into the boil, which traps the sand and sediment but lets some of the water flow.

The new filters “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 the Army’s patent application that was made public on Thursday.

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


Quinton King, senior technology manager at TechLink, can help private companies evaluate and license government-owned intellectual property, the first step in turning an Army invention into a product on the market.

“This could be a very valuable tool, especially for communities along rivers like the Missouri or Mississippi,” King said. “Sand boils are part and parcel of flood control and this filter can help deal with them while keeping the sandbag lines working elsewhere.”

Licensing-related inquiries can be sent to Quinton King at or by telephone at 406-994-7795.