People of Reclamation: Meet Connie Svoboda
Written by: Emily Quinn
Connie Svoboda, hydraulic engineerA career with Reclamation can take on many forms. At Reclamation, we house a diverse group of world-class subject matter experts who help us achieve our mission.
Connie Svoboda is one of Reclamation’s go-to subject matter experts when it comes to hydraulic engineering. She has been a hydraulic engineer with Reclamation’s Technical Service Center in the Hydraulic Investigations and Laboratory Services Group for more than 17 years. Hydraulic engineers apply principles of water movement to the development of structures, projects, and systems involving water resources.
Connie began pursuing a career in the hydraulic engineering field while attending Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. She then went on to receive a Master of Science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After that, Connie became a Professional Engineer in the state of Colorado.
While in graduate school, Connie worked in the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory at the University of Minnesota where she began her work experience in a hydraulics laboratory. “Working in the lab made me truly appreciate physical modeling because you can develop a test plan and collect data on scaled models to answer engineering questions,” said Connie. “I liked being able to observe the behavior of water in a lab, rather than simply performing calculations on paper.”
She began looking for work, and when she noticed an opportunity to work in Reclamation’s hydraulics laboratory in Denver, Colorado, she jumped on it. The wide variety of challenging jobs and the broad range of clients and stakeholders has kept her work interesting over the years.
Connie’s day-to-day work involves conducting physical hydraulic modeling, field testing and hydraulic analyses in the areas of fish passage and protection, hydraulic structure design and performance, dam safety and river restoration. “I am particularly interested in ecohydraulics, which links the disciplines of hydraulics with aquatic ecosystems and river processes, and fishery issues.”
She is currently a member of an interagency team working at Shasta Dam in northern California to assess fish passage for salmonids listed under the Endangered Species Act. “We are evaluating the feasibility of providing passage and identifying potential alternatives and challenges for upstream and downstream passage of salmonids,” Connie explained.
Unique challenges are presented to salmonids due to the height of structures, reservoir size, temperature fluctuations and elevation changes to water surface. “The work we’re doing is important because effective fish passage would increase habitat availability of threatened and endangered salmonids with the ultimate goal of rebuilding populations to the point of resiliency,” said Connie. In addition to her role as a researcher with Reclamation’s Science and Technology Program, Connie manages a portfolio of prize competitions under the theme of Environmental Compliance in Reclamation’s Water Prize Competition Center. These competitions invite the public to develop novel concepts and technologies to solve some of Reclamation’s most pressing environmental issues, and cover important subjects like fish recovery, sedimentation, management of water temperature and control and/or elimination of invasive species.
“Prize competitions are a unique tool used to accelerate research and development, and they drive innovation through crowdsourcing and the ideas of citizen solvers,” said Connie. “With this approach, Reclamation hopes to address difficult, sometimes elusive problems relating to mission and operations challenges.”
Throughout her time here, Connie has had the opportunity to take part in many exciting projects. To date, her most exciting and rewarding project has been her work on the Folsom Dam Joint Federal Project auxiliary spillway. She said, “Through physical modeling, we were able to improve the hydraulic performance of the project’s design features.” The project team also made recommendations for operational scenarios based on their findings, and provided a visual tool to gain consensus among stakeholders.
Connie was recently able to visit the newly constructed auxiliary spillway and said, “There’s great pride in seeing the completed project, and it’s impressive to see how large the spillway and gates are in real life after looking at a smaller scale of the dam for many years in the laboratory.”
Her work is both interesting and rewarding, but what matters most to Connie is that she is able to work with intelligent, motivated people who genuinely care about their work and who hope to have a positive impact on society. “The work we do at Reclamation everyday builds upon our ability to improve the management of water as a critically important resource, especially in the arid West,” she explained.
Many people know of Reclamation as the federal water manager in the West, but most don’t know about what takes place behind the scenes. Connie wants people to know that Reclamation has strong internal laboratory capabilities at its Technical Service Center in Denver, Colorado. The hydraulics lab allows for physical modeling of hydraulic structures, which enables modelers, designers, biologists and other stakeholders to utilize a smaller size model of a facility or project feature to make informed decisions prior to implementing decisions at facilities.
During her “off” hours, Connie loves to be outdoors. Living in Colorado, she’s able to take advantage of lots of outdoor activities, like biking, skiing, camping or traversing the mountains with her husband, their two daughters ages two and four, and their trusty family dog.
Reclamation is lucky to have experts like Connie on the team. We wouldn’t be able to reach our mission goals without the hard work and dedication of Connie and our other experts. If this sounds like a team you’d like to be a part of, keep an eye on this website for career vacancy updates: https://go.usa.gov/xUwNE.
Connie tests the lab scale model of the Folsom Auxiliary Spillway
Lab scale model of the Folsom Auxiliary Spillway
Connie stands in front Folsom Dam
The completed Folsom Auxiliary Spillway project
Published on August 08, 2018