2007 – Cobb Dam sinkholes

Bruce Walpole and Craig Scott

Monitoring and surveillance is crucial to managing the ongoing performance of dam structures.
The true value of appropriate monitoring, surveillance and review processes is only realised when
potential dam safety issues arise. TrustPower’s civil safety monitoring and surveillance program
includes nineteen hydro schemes throughout New Zealand and incorporates structures with
Potential Impact Classifications (PIC) ranging from Low to High.

TrustPower promotes a continual improvement policy on its management of safety issues and
conducts inspections on a regular basis. Routine and periodic independent inspections of the key
components within a scheme are paramount to the viability of the safety management system. The
importance and purpose of these inspections has recently been highlighted by the discovery of two
sinkholes on the face of the earth dam associated with the Cobb hydro electric power scheme.

This paper provides an example of the need for continual monitoring and surveillance, vigilance
of observations, good archiving systems and documentation. It discusses the broader issues
surrounding the subsequent response processes to potential dam safety deficiencies, and the
success (or otherwise) of investigative methods. It also highlights that an adequate dam safety
compliance system has commercial value as there is a measurable reduction in dam performance
uncertainty and hence greater efficiency in the speed at which accurate resolutions can be drawn.

Keywords: Dam safety, embankment, sinkholes, foundations, dam drainage, geophysical

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