2006 – Developing Techniques for New Dam Design and Construction Management – Recent New Zealand Experience

R. Dawson, J. Grimston, R. Cole, D. Bouma

The authors have been involved in the design and construction of several embankment dams in New Zealand over the past decade, and have considerable corporate knowledge from dams designed by the company in its 47-year history. This paper examines four dams which are relatively small to medium, ranging in height from 10 to 19 m with moderate storage volumes. Three of the dams service landfills and the fourth a wood processing mill. Such dams may provide the designer with considerable challenges due to their relatively low capital cost resulting in limited investment in geotechnical investigation at the front end of the project, with varying levels of change often required during construction due to unforeseen conditions as a result of the limited investigations.

The general arrangement and conceptual design principles for each of the dams is described followed by the field investigation and laboratory testing undertaken for each dam, together with the interpreted ground conditions.

The experiences from construction have helped to develop techniques for a balance between preliminary design, investigation, and evolution of the design and specification during construction. It is imperative to develop a sufficiently detailed preliminary design, on the basis of readily available information such as visual and geological assessment, to allow the investigation to be thoughtfully designed to allow the major assumptions to be verified. This needs to be followed by a skilfully executed geotechnical investigation with the designer advising on findings and changing direction as necessary through the investigation. An investigation trench along the full alignment of the cutoff trench (if envisaged in the design) is warranted. Earthworks specifications should be evolved early in the construction phase through compaction trials using specific plant for the site, and backed up by insitu and laboratory testing.

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