2010 – Challenges in dam design on lateritic soils

Jiri Herza, Nihal Vitharana, Alex Gower

The Western Australia Water Corporation plans to increase the storage capacity of Millstream Dam, which is located near Bridgetown in the south west region of WA. The existing dam is an 18 m high zoned earthfill embankment constructed in 1962. The dam suffered a block heave of the foundation at the downstream toe during the first filling, probably attributable to high foundation pore water pressures. The dam upgrade will be challenging due to complex and unfavourable foundation soils coupled with these artesian pressures.
The dam is founded on lateritic soil, which is a common weathering profile throughout the region. These soils formed in a tropical environment of fluctuating water tables, severe leaching and translocation of iron oxides over many millions of years. As a consequence some of the lateritic horizons at Millstream Dam have been modified such that they exhibit behaviours that are not consistent with conventional constitutive models and correlations. These are attributed to a complex structure of the soil microfabric, which comprises clay particles bonded together into larger aggregates. The clayey aggregates are also bonded to each other, forming a porous matrix of silty or sandy appearance characterized by low dry density and high void ratio, which may nevertheless disintegrate on working.
Comprehensive geotechnical investigations and extensive laboratory testing have revealed that the foundation materials display characteristics of clayey and granular soils. Under shearing, these soils demonstrate high initial strength, which gradually reduces as the inter-aggregate bonds are broken and the relative position of the aggregates changes. Several soil samples also exhibited significant contractive behaviour on shearing generating high pore pressures under undrained conditions.
This paper presents the investigation and design methods used in the foundation design of the Millstream Dam upgrade with emphasis on unusual behaviour of the foundation media.

Challenges in dam design on lateritic soils

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