Major Historical Dam Failures with Modes of Failure

Past Dam Failures with
Modes of Failure
Keith Mills, P.E., G.E.
Acting State Engineer
Oregon Water Resources Dept.
2014 NWHA Annual Meeting
Objective – Discuss major dam
incidents relevant to the PNW
Four Dams were selected because
a) Severe or potential severe consequences
b) Modes of failure applicable to Pacific
c) Reasonable knowledge of incident cause
Relevant Dam Incidents
Vaiont 1963 Northern Italy
Teton 1976 Eastern Idaho
Taum Sauk 2005 Missouri
Kaloko 2006 Kauai, Hawaii
Lessons Learned
•Comprehending geology - conditions
•Design - state of the practice?
•Construction practices
•Non-engineered alterations
•Operations, monitoring and Inspections
Two Historical Failures
• Johnstown (South Fork) 1889
• Saint Francis 1928
South Fork Dam
Type: Embankment
(earth and puddle)
10 miles SE Johnstown, PA
Constructed: 1840 - 1853
Height 72 feet
Storage 15,000 acre-ft
Date of Failure: May 31, 1889
Lives Lost: 2,209
South Fork Dam
Saint Francis Dam
Type: Concrete Gravity
70 miles North Los Angeles
Constructed: 1924 to 1926
Height 205 feet
Storage 38,000 acre feet
Date of Failure:
March 12, 1928
Lives Lost: 450+
Saint Francis Dam
Remnants after near instantaneous dam failure
Vaiont Dam
Type: Concrete thin arch
60 miles North of Venice
Constructed: 1958 -1960
Height 869 feet
Storage 122,000 acre ft
Date of Failure:
October 9, 1963
Lives Lost: 2,500
Vaiont Dam
After – landslide dwarfs dam
Vaiont Dam mode of flooding
Gigantic landslide
displaced reservoir
Contributing Factors
• Missed existing inactive landslide(s)
• Control by changing reservoir levels
• Extreme landslide size and speed
(very rare)
Note reservoir level and rate of movement
Vaiont Dam –Lessons Learned
• Comprehend the dam site geology
• Unwise to rely on reservoir level to control
landslide movement
• Arch dams can be very stable (dam survived)
• No timely independent investigation
• Italian state - “the price of modernization”
Teton Dam
Type: Zoned Embankment
40 miles NE Idaho Falls
Constructed: 1972 - 1976
Height 305 feet
Storage 288, 250 acre feet
Date of Failure: June 5, 1976
Lives Lost: 11
(middle of reported range)
Property damage:
$400,000,000 -$1,000,000,000
Teton Dam
Picture taken at near maximum breach just past noon, first
observation of problems were that morning
Teton Dam Mode of Failure
Primary: Development of
rapid piping in right abutment
with no defense or filter
Contributing Factors
•Large open joints and
fissures in next to key trench
•Zone 1 (core) material highly
prone to erosion and piping
•Non standard key trench in
•No soil filter in abutment key
•Grout curtain inconsistent
Teton Dam Lessons Learned
• Designers must
understand the
significance of open
fractures and voids
• Key trenches in the
abutment can make
the situation worse
• A defensive design
for all parts of the
dam was essential
Abutment Key Trench
Teton Dam Lessons Learned
• Incomplete grouting can be very unsafe
• No compacted fill is ever homogenous
• Internal erosion can be masked if rock
fractured and open
• Piping through erodible fill can develop to
a dam breach very quickly
• Cooperating agencies can complete an
outstanding forensic investigation
Taum Sauk Dam
Type: Concrete faced rock-fill with a
parapet wall, liner added
Failure: December 14, 2005
90 miles Southwest of Saint Louis, MO
87 feet tall - 4600 acre feet
Constructed: 1960-1964
Lives Lost: 0
(5 serious injuries)
Taum Sauk
Pumped storage
Inundation in yellow
Flood wave stored
in lower reservoir
Camp located in
inundation area
Little use in winter
Casualties could
have been much
Taum Sauk Mode of Failure
Overflow eroding rockfill
Crest uneven from settlement
Improperly placed sensors
Unsafely programmed sensors
No direct observation
Differential settlement (fines)
Irregular foundation material
Improper liner placement
No spillway
Taum Sauk Lessons Learned
• All dams need a spillway
• Dams, even rock-fill, settle over time
• Concrete faced dams prone to severe
damage if there is settlement
• Organizations need to care about safety
• Largest FERC fine, at least to that point
• Dam failures impact all dam owners
Kaloko Dam
Type: Embankment/hydraulic fill
Location: 10 mi NW Kapaa
Built 1890, Raised 1911
Height 40 feet
Storage 1200 acre feet
Failure: March 14, 2006
Lives Lost: 7
Property damage: Still
in litigation
Complex ownership pattern
Kaloko Dam
Inundation Area after dam breach
Kaloko Dam Mode of Failure
Primary: Spillway filled
by new dam owner, then
extended overtopping
(filled by irrigation ditch)
Contributing Factors:
•Crest uneven (2 feet)
•Lack of maintenance;
•Trees hid erosion
•Incorrect inspectors
The breach
Kaloko Dam Lessons Learned
2. Incorrect hazard ratings
can have serious
consequences (Low when it
should have been HIGH)
3. A red flag when dam
owners and ditch
operators do not talk
4. Inspect dams that need to
be inspected
5. The dam regulator must
inspect & investigate
Where was dam safety?
Key Lessons from the 6 incidents
• Spillways need to handle design inflows
• Understand big picture geology
(rock and soil)
• Old design flaws are common
• As-built is different than as designed
• Small dams failures have consequences on
owners of large dams
• Robert B. Jansen, USBOR Retired, author of
Dams and Public Safety
• J. David Rogers, Professor of Geological
Engineering, Missouri University of Science and Technology
• Dave Pelty, Durham University
• Robert Godbey, Hawaii Special Deputy A.G.

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