Dam Construction & Repair

What is dam construction....

The design and construction of earth and rock-fill dams are complex because of the nature of the varying foundation conditions and range of properties of the materials available for use in the embankment

The successful design, construction, and operation of a reservoir project over the full range of loading require a comprehensive site characterization, a detailed design of each feature, construction supervision, measurement and monitoring of the performance, and the continuous evaluation of the project features during operation. The design and construction of earth and rock-fill dams are complex because of the nature of the varying foundation conditions and range of properties of the materials available for use in the embankment.

The first step is to conduct detailed geological and subsurface explorations, which characterize the foundation, abutments, and potential borrow areas. The next step is to conduct a study of the type and physical properties of materials to be placed in the embankment. This study should include a determination of quantities and the sequence in which they will become available.

The design should include all of the studies, testing, analyses, and evaluations to ensure that the embankment meets all technical criteria and the requirements of a dam as outlined. Construction supervision, management, and monitoring of the embankment and appurtenant structures are a critical part of the overall project management plan. Once the project is placed into operation, observations, surveillance, inspections, and continuing evaluation are required to assure the satisfactory performance of the dam. Dams are a critical and essential part of the Nation’s infrastructure for the storage and management of water in watersheds.

Earth Dam

An earth dam is composed of suitable soils obtained from borrow areas or required excavation and compacted in layers by mechanical means. Following preparation of a foundation, earth from borrow areas and from required excavations is transported to the site, dumped, and spread in layers of required depth. The soil layers are then compacted by tamping rollers, sheepsfoot rollers, heavy pneumatictired rollers, vibratory rollers, tractors, or earth-hauling equipment. One advantage of an earth dam is that it can be adapted to a weak foundation, provided proper consideration is given to thorough foundation exploration, testing, and design.

Rock-fill dams

A rock-fill dam is one composed largely of fragmented rock with an impervious core. The core is separated from the rock shells by a series of transition zones built of properly graded material. A membrane of concrete, asphalt, or steel plate on the upstream face should be considered in lieu of an impervious earth core only when sufficient impervious material is not available (such was the case at R. W. Bailey Dam; see Beene and Pritchett 1985). However, such membranes are susceptible to breaching as a result of settlement. The rock-fill zones are compacted in layers 12 to 24 in. thick by heavy rubber-tired or steel-wheel vibratory rollers. It is often desirable to determine the best methods of construction and compaction on the basis of test quarry and test fill results. Dumping rock fill and sluicing with water, or dumping in water, is generally acceptable only in constructing cofferdams that are not to be incorporated in the dam embankment. Free-draining, well-compacted rock fill can be placed with steep slopes if the dam is on a rock foundation. If it is necessary to place rock-fill on an earth or weathered rock foundation, the slopes must, of course, be much flatter, and transition zones are required between the foundation and the rock fill. Materials for rock-fill dams range from sound free-draining rock to the more friable materials such as sandstones and silt-shales that break down under handling and compacting to form an impervious to semipervious mass. The latter materials, because they are not completely free-draining and lack the shear strength of sound rock fill, are often termed “random rock” and can be used successfully for dam construction, but, because of stability and seepage considerations, the embankment design using such materials is similar to that for earth dams.