Americas, People Spotlight, Program Management, Water

Our People Spotlight series gives you an inside look at our technical experts around the world. This week, we are highlighting an engineer and program manager from our Water business line in the Americas region and providing an insight into their inspiration and work.

David Sawitzki has been a consulting geotechnical engineer, operations manager and program manager for more than 30 years. Specializing in civil and geotechnical engineering, David’s expertise is focused on foundations, dam and levee design, and mining and landfill disposal. Throughout his career, he’s managed over $220 million in architect-engineering program contracts, led numerous teams of engineers on complex projects and generated stakeholder engagement in multiple communities where flooding has threatened livelihoods and lives.

Tell us about what inspired you to join the industry.

I knew that I wanted to pursue a career that allowed me to travel and be in the field, so I focused on geological and geotechnical engineering—which turned out to be a smart choice as my professional journeys have led me to project locations across the United States and Canada, and even internationally in the Middle East.

Working as a consulting engineer gives me the opportunity to see numerous geologic settings, communicate with diverse project owners—from federal, state and local agencies to the private sector—and solve problems in markets as diverse as architectural, manufacturing, development, mining and power. It’s this constant variety, combined with the ability to support large, critical infrastructure projects that affect people on a daily basis that keeps me inspired.

What is your favorite AECOM project that you’ve worked on and why?

One of my most rewarding projects was serving as the program manager to rehabilitate the Mosul Dam in Iraq. I led a team of 60 professionals working in support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), mobilizing on-site at the dam for a period of two-and-a-half years under demanding conditions.

While the logistics of working in an active war zone were unprecedented in my career, the project itself was also exceedingly complex due to the dam’s deteriorating foundation and neglect from years of war sanctions. Preventing a catastrophic failure of the dam meant protecting millions of people living downstream within the Tigris River Valley, so when you talk about scale and impact, this project is certainly at the top of my list.

Tell us a story of how your work positively impacted the community.
We recently collaborated with USACE in Martin, Kentucky, where severe flooding from Beaver Creek caused an ongoing threat to the town and its residents. Our innovative project design called for raising the town itself an average of 16 feet—as you can imagine, that’s no small feat. First, we modeled the local waterway to establish the FEMA floodway limits. More than 340,000 cubic yards of soil and rock were placed over the existing 10-acre site, up to the floodway line, to raise the entire town three feet above the 100-year flood elevation. All structures within the 100-year floodplain were identified for demolition, and the town’s infrastructure was relocated at the new, higher elevation.

We prepared a digital model of the planned town and developed a conceptual design layout of buildings and infrastructure for a 3D visual “fly-through” so the local government and citizens could see and better understand what their new community would look like. Additionally, in accordance with ESG principles, we reclaimed the former town floodway area as greenspace, stabilizing a creek channel and establishing a new wetland habitat.

Share a piece of career advice
Try to find a way to say “yes” when approached with an opportunity and always build your internal and external professional connections. The relationships you develop will bear fruit in ways that are often impossible to predict, providing opportunities to get involved with challenging projects in unique locations or accepting work outside of your comfort zone so you can grow in unexpected ways. Connections are invaluable, and the work we do is facilitated and driven by developing meaningful relationships.

David was on-site at the Mosul Dam in Iraq for two-and-a-half years, leading a team of 60 AECOM staff partnering with USACE to rebuild the dam under the challenging conditions of working in an active war zone.
Originally published Sep 14, 2022

Author: David Sawitzki