2010 – Response and failure prevention, following the identification of a major lining defect in the Tekapo Canal, New Zealand

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Jim Walker, Sergio Vallesi, Neil Sutherland, Peter Amos, Tim Mills

The Tekapo Canal is a 26km long hydropower canal owned by Meridian Energy Ltd in New Zealand. Completed in 1976, the canal is 40m wide, 7m deep and has a capacity of 120m3/s. The canal was constructed from compacted local glacial soils with a compacted silt lining sourced from till deposits.

During 2007 and 2008 the canal showed signs of leakage where it crossed over a twin barrel culvert structure. In October 2008 a diver inspection identified depressions and sinkholes on the invert of the canal above the culvert. Approximately 6m3 of silty gravel lining material had settled. Testing showed direct and rapid connections between lining defects and seepage outflows at the culvert outlet headwall. Subsequent ground penetrating radar survey confirmed the presence of voids above the culvert barrels. Diver placed filling of the defects with granular materials was immediately implemented, and a series of remedial actions over the next four months were required to arrest deterioration and enable the canal to remain operational.

The paper describes the initial response to this situation and the immediate measures taken to prevent failure. It also describes the medium term and ongoing measures implemented to maintain the safety of the canal while permanent remediation requirements are assessed. The lessons learned from this event, and their impacts on Meridian’s Dam Safety Assurance Programme (DSAP) are also discussed.

Immediate response measures included ongoing filling of lining defects with filter gravel, intensive land based and diver surveillance of the canal, planning and resourcing for emergency contingency actions in the event that a risk of breach developed. Medium term measures included arresting leakage by placing a low permeability blanket of silty gravel over the damaged area using a concrete pump, and constructing external buttresses capable of safely withstanding large discharges should deterioration of the canal structure occur.

These short and medium term remedial measures were completed with the canal full and in operation and continue to perform well 20 months later. Continuing risk mitigation measures include enhanced surveillance and monitoring (land based and using divers), localised treatment of defects, as well as ongoing monitoring and review of the Dam Safety management regime and sustained Emergency Management preparedness.

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