2010 – Lessons from the failure of the Massingir Dam outlet conduit

Peter A Ballantine, Christopher V Seddon

Massingir Dam, constructed in the late 1970’s on the Olifants River in Mozambique, is a 48 m high zoned earthfill dam. Due to various safety concerns, the dam was operated at a reduced full supply level of 110 masl, compared to the design full supply level of 125 masl. Between 2004 and 2006 remedial works were undertaken, including the construction of a berm on the downstream face of the dam, grouting and drainage of the foundations and installation of the spillway crest gates. From December 2005 the storage level of the dam was allowed to increase.
On 22 May 2008, with the reservoir storage level at 122.43 masl and the gates on the outlet conduits closed, the reinforced concrete conduits failed at the downstream end, releasing an estimated 1,000 m3 /s of water into the Olifants River.
A 2-D finite element analysis was undertaken in order to establish the safe load bearing capacity of the as-constructed conduits. On the basis of the analysis, it was concluded that the original design did not take proper account of the pressure that would develop within the thick concrete sections of the conduit. In view of assumptions regarding the load paths, the reinforcement was not placed in the most appropriate positions.
This paper describes the events leading up to the failure of the conduit, presents the findings of the investigation into the failure and makes recommendations on the basis of the findings.

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