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Causes of Dam Failure

By: Haseeb Jamal / On: Jan 16, 2017 / Environmental Effects

Causes of Dam Failure

Dam failure is defined by the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD) as the ‘collapse or movement of part of a dam or its foundation, so that the dam cannot retain water.

Causes of Dam Failure
Causes of Dam Failure - Why Dams Fail

Causes of Dam Failure:

In general, a failure results in the release of large quantities of water, posing serious risks for the people or property downstream. The most common cause of failure of earth and rock-fill dams is overtopping (31% as primary cause and 18% as secondary cause). This is followed by internal erosion in the body of the dam (15% as primary cause and 13% as secondary cause) and in the foundation (12% as primary cause and 5% as secondary cause). With masonry dams, the most common cause is overtopping (43%) followed by internal erosion in the foundation (29%).

Where other works were the seat of the failure, the most common cause was inadequate spillway capacity (22% as primary cause and 30% as secondary cause). Foundation problems are the most common cause of failure in concrete dams, with internal erosion and insufficient shear strength of the foundation each accounting for 21% of failures.

  1. Use of Sub-standard Construction Materials
  2. Inadequate Maintenance and upkeep funding
  3. Design Error or outdated design
  4. Overtopping
  5. Foundation Defects
  6. Cracking
  7. Piping
  8. Changes in Landuse
  9. Changes in Weather pattern

Use of Sub-standard Construction Materials



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