1999 – Karapiro Dam – Stability Investigations and Enhancement Works

Jim Walker, Murray Gillon and John Grimston

Karapiro Dam is at the end of a cascade of hydropower dams on the Waikato River in New Zealand’s North Island. The 52m high, high hazard, arch dam retains the lake for a 96MW power station at its downstream toe. Safety reviews recommended a re-evaluation of the dam stability under seismic loading.

Dam owner, Electricity Corporation of New Zealand (ECNZ), commissioned consultants Tonkin & Taylor Ltd to carry out a series of studies and investigations which provided better understanding of the dam’s safety status. Investigations located a previously unrecorded continuous low strength thrust fault underlying the left abutment. This provided the potential for movement of the left abutment gravity blocks under earthquake loading, with adverse effects on arch dam and reservoir safety. Investigations showed the abutment cut off walls to be lower than the PMF lake level. High groundwater levels and erodible pumiceous soils were found at the left abutment. These findings prompted ECNZ to implement stability enhancement works.

This paper describes the studies and investigations, peer review process, and design and construction of enhancement works.

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