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Montana Western alum helps assess dam safety

February 25, 2015

CodyClark2Cody Clark recently marked up faults near Clark Canyon Reservoir outside of Dillon.Clark, originally from Fishtail, Mont., graduated from Montana Western in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science with an emphasis in geology. While attending college, he made valuable connections through what is now called the Pathways Program. Pathways connects current college students with federal government internships and then helps recent graduates find federal jobs.

Clark’s first internship was with U.S. Forest Service, where he spent a summer assessing fish habitats in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Although this may not seem like an ideal internship for a geology major, UMW environmental sciences professor Rob Thomas said the internship was approved because it helped Clark meet and connect with the right people and agencies, and that networking paid off.

Now, Clark is in his 14th year as a geology engineer with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. He serves as the senior project geologist for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Great Plains region, which includes the area from the Continental Divide to the Missouri River, stretching from Montana to Texas.

“Cody is a real success story from Montana Western,” said Thomas. “He has gone on to be a very important land manager with the Bureau of Reclamation.”

In his current role, Clark spends a significant amount of time working on the region’s dams. He was back on the Montana Western campus on Feb. 23 to detail some of his work on the Red Willow Dam near McCook, Neb.

The results of recent dam safety investigations across Nebraska have led to some interesting findings. In 2009, Reclamation crews discovered a sinkhole on the downstream face of Red Willow Dam. Expedited geologic investigations were conducted to determine the cause, which turned into a subsequent $15.3 million contract for remediation.

Clark highlighted the significance of regional and local geology to the safety of dams. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water in the country and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States.

“The Red Willow Dam is a good example of the problems that come with dams that you can’t necessarily see,” said Clark. “It takes a geologist to find those problems. I think we will see a lot more jobs for geologists with good field skills in the future.”

Clark said he thinks the Montana Western program allowed him to start a successful career without having to get a graduate degree, because he had the necessary field and project skills as a result of their field-based curriculum.

“It really helped having practical experience coming from Montana Western,” said Clark. “The experiences Montana Western provided me with were invaluable. As a student, being able to go out into the field and see projects through from start to finish gave me the tools I needed to really excel once on the job. Employers have nothing but positive things to say about Montana Western graduates.”