2000 – Ben Boyd Dam: A Case Study in Incident Management

P.W. Heinrichs and R. Fell

Ben Boyd Dam, a 29 m high earthfill embankment built in 1978, has had an unusual history. In 1979, a number of seeps developed during first filling with water 5 m below FSL indicating unexpectedly high pressures. Investigations concluded the coarse filter permeability was very low due to excess fines. Remedial works in 1982 included a drainage filter beyond the toe and a new stability berm above. New piezometers were installed, including several in the blanket filters in the existing dam. These later indicated up to 10.5 m head in isolated areas within the filter. Pump out tests partially lowered the water level in the standpipes but in 1995 the water level rose by 4 m back to its previous high level. All this during a period of relatively low rainfall. Stability analyses were carried out and further investigations in 1999 concluded that apart from general leakage from the foundation abutment into the filters, the rise in pressures was due to leakage from a riser hole from one of the nearby foundation piezometers. A potential for piping along the piezometer tubes within the dam was also identified.

This situation was managed without resort to costly capital works, because it was concluded that the pressures from the vertical riser were not a potential failure mode, and potential piping failure would be adequately handled by the existing chimney drain, intersecting the piezometer tubes trench. Any potential piping failure would also give warning signs which increased frequency of monitoring (now in place) would pick up in time to allow lowering of the storage.

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