2000 – Lyell Dam Rubber Dam Incidents

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I. R. Forster

Lyell Dam is a concrete-faced rockfill dam, located on the Coxs River, near Lithgow, NSW. The dam forms part of the Coxs River Water Supply Scheme, which supplies water to Delta Electricity’s Wallerawang and Mount Piper Power Stations. In 1994, the spillway capacity of the dam was upgraded, and the storage augmented with the addition of two 40 m long by 3.5 m high inflatable rubber dams to the spillway crest. An automatic deflation system, controlled by a programmable logic controller, was installed to provide a staged bag deflation sequence during flooding, and hence minimise the downstream impact of rubber dam operation.

Although the rubber dams and control system initially operated as designed, more recently, two uncontrolled bag deflations have occurred, which have caused flooding downstream and loss of significant storage volumes. In the first incident, a spontaneous uncontrolled deflation of the rubber dams released about 1600 ML, before the bags re-inflated automatically. An investigation revealed that the incident was most likely the result of design deficiencies in the control system. Recommendations were made for improvements to the system.

During the most recent deflation, one of the rubber dams failed by spontaneous rupture, and approximately 6000 ML of water was released from the dam. The Dam Safety Emergency Plan was activated to ensure persons at risk downstream were notified of the impending flood wave. A post- failure inspection of the ruptured bag suggested that the likely cause of failure was a manufacturing defect, which allowed air to penetrate the layers of rubber forming the bag. The rupture most likely occurred when the resulting air pocket expanded on exposure to the sun.

The paper examines the two deflation incidents in detail, and analyses the emergency response to the second incident.

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