2012 – Oberon Dam – Failure hazard of a buttress dam and its vulnerability to earthquake damage

Chi-fai Wan, Jason Hascall, Andrew Richardson, John Sukkar

Oberon Dam is the major headwork of the Fish River Water Supply Scheme providing bulk water supply to Oberon Shire and Lithgow City Councils, Sydney Catchment Authority, and Delta Electricity. The dam is owned and operated by State Water Corporation (SWC).
Located on the Fish River 2km south of Oberon in New South Wales, Oberon Dam was completed in two stages in 1946 and 1957. In 1996 the dam was upgraded to pass the 1993 Probable Maximum Flood estimate by raising the dam 1.77m and constructing a 50m wide auxiliary spillway on the left abutment. The upgraded dam comprises a 232m long, 35.3m high concrete slab and buttress section and a 165m long earth embankment section.
A typical buttress dam has its inclined upstream face made up of relatively thin reinforced concrete slabs supported by but not integral with the buttresses, making a relatively flexible dam structure vulnerable to earthquake damage.
As buttress dams evolved from concrete gravity dams, their structural design follows the same principles as applied to gravity dams. However, many buttress dams were designed over 60 years ago using outdated methods that did not consider earthquake loads. Current overseas and local design guidelines do not provide sufficient guidance for checking the seismic stability of existing buttress dams. For instance, the simplified seismic analysis, proposed by Fenves and Chopra to investigate the seismic response of gravity dams to earthquake loads in the upstream-downstream direction, is not applicable to buttress dams which are also susceptible to damage by earthquake loads in the cross-valley direction.
SWC engaged Black & Veatch to carry out a three-dimensional finite element analysis of Oberon Dam to better understand the structural behaviour of the dam under earthquakes. The analysis used both the response spectrum and time history approaches. Due to the uncommon design of Oberon Dam and the limited discussion found in the literature on the dynamic behaviour of buttress dams, the Authors would like to share their experience in the assessment of the hazard, and on the use of modern finite element modelling techniques to investigate the dynamic response of this type of dam.
Keywords: Ambursen dams, Buttress dams, Risk assessment, Time history analysis, Finite element


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