2015 – Partial Reconstruction of Rowallan Dam to Repair a Piping Incident

Gavan Hunter, Andrew Pattle and Mark Foster

A piping incident occurred during first filling of Rowallan Dam, Tasmania in 1968. The incident occurred at the interface of the embankment with the spillway wall, a 15 m high near vertical wall, where the contact earthfill eroded into the single stage downstream filter. Repairs were undertaken in 1968/1969 and the reservoir has operated largely without incident since.
A risk assessment in 2009 identified that piping through the embankment at the spillway wall interface remained a significant dam safety risk. Investigations in 2010 encountered cracking within the earthfill core at the spillway wall interface.
Dam safety upgrade works were undertaken in 2014/15 to address the piping failure mode at the spillway walls and also within the upper portion of the embankment. The works required excavation down to a rock foundation at depths up to 18 m adjacent to the spillway walls and this excavation provided an unusual opportunity to closely examine active piping features that had been preserved when interim repairs in 1968/69 had arrested the progression of piping. The repair comprised reconstruction of a significant portion of the embankment at the spillway and the reconstruction of the upper 7 m of the crest, which included dual filters downstream of the earthfill core.
The findings from the forensic investigations of the deep excavations adjacent to the right spillway wall are described in this paper along with a summary of finding from the 1968/69 repair works and a discussion of the piping mechanism at the spillway wall. The paper also covers the design and construction of the repair work. The focus of this paper is on advancements in our understanding of piping risk arising from the Rowallan Dam work.
In conclusion, (i) the upgrade works successfully reduced the dam safety risk of Rowallan Dam; (ii) the findings support the methodologies of the piping toolbox; (iii) the case study provides insight into filtering and crack filling mechanisms that have a broader implication for estimating the risks of internal erosion within existing dams; and (iv) the findings support the assessment of the low residual risks for piping through the embankment away from the upgrade work areas (crest reconstruction and spillway walls).
Keywords: Earth and rockfill embankment, piping incident, piping mechanism, dam safety upgrade.

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