Operating Pier Plate project extending the life of Morris Sheppard Dam

Operating Pier Plate project extending the life of Morris Sheppard Dam

Extending the life of the oldest water supply reservoir in the Brazos River basin requires highly skilled ideas, work and dedication. 

And triple-digit temperatures and a worldwide pandemic won’t stop the team dedicated to preserving and maintaining Possum Kingdom Lake’s Morris Sheppard Dam. 

The Brazos River Authority’s Reservoir System Maintenance Unit, known more commonly as RSMU, works year-round to maintain the structure, located on the main stem of the Brazos River northwest of Fort Worth. Currently, that includes a capital project to construct and install new stainless-steel side seal plates on each of the piers that support the dam’s nine spillway gates.

The BRA awarded the engineering firm, Gannett Fleming Inc., a professional service contract to develop and engineer the project.  The pier plate replacement is a component of a larger BRA effort of ongoing gate maintenance rehabilitation projects at Morris Sheppard Dam. The engineering firm developed the design repairs in concert with the BRA’s RSMU crew.

The RSMU department is comprised of employees proficient in all aspects of heavy industrial construction, including welding, fabrication, sandblasting, coatings, and crane operations. 

The RSMU staff, with their commitment to excellence in the performance of maintenance activities, are committed to extending the useful service life of Morris Sheppard Dam for water supply within the Brazos River basin. Completed in 1941 with the aid of the Depression-era Works Progress Program, the dam stretches 2,700 feet long and 190 feet high, or one-half mile long and 13 stories high. The dam includes nine steel roof weir or bear-trap gates that are 74 feet long by 13 feet high and are rigorously maintained by the RSMU crew. Built before the days of computerized, electronically-operated hydraulic gates, the bear-trap gates are operated manually – much as they were when the dam was originally built in 1941.


Projects of this nature are just one of the wide variety of responsibilities by the RSMU crew tasked with caring for the old dam. Rather than contracting out every maintenance, repair or improvement project, the RSMU crew is dedicated solely to maintaining this enormous structure named for the United States senator who was instrumental in obtaining funding for the project.

Non-traditional approaches often are required to achieve a superior finished project, whether that’s due to humidity, confined areas, water hazards, extreme heights, and hazardous chemicals.

And of course, Texas’ dramatic temperatures.

RSMU Maintenance Superintendent David Noyola said supervisors are monitoring outside the often-triple digit temperatures and advising staff to take water breaks as needed. 

“The RSMU crew is working hard and trying their best to get the job done with quality work,” Noyola said.

The RSMU crew is amazing, said Michael McClendon, BRA upper basin regional manager.

The evidence is ongoing, especially knowing what’s going into this project, from making sure the stainless steel doesn’t warp, to design and configuration, installation, environmental conditions, McClendon said. 

Created by the Texas Legislature in 1929, the BRA is dedicated to maintaining the structural integrity of its dams and prolonging the life of its three reservoirs: Possum Kingdom Lake’s Morris Sheppard Dam, Lake Limestone’s Sterling C. Robertson Dam, and Lake Granbury’s DeCordova Bend Dam.