2016 – The Myth of the Perfect Seepage Barrier

Richard R. Davidson, Michael Zoccola, Barney Davis, John W. France

Seepage barriers have become an essential element of dam safety upgrades for many aging dams. Our construction technical specifications are generally written to achieve a degree of perfection that may not be possible or practical. Many practitioners believe that grouting alone can achieve an acceptable seepage barrier through a pervious rock foundation. However, precedent from many Corps of Engineers dams has revealed that grouting can only treat those open features that the grout holes intersect. What about clay filled fractures or solution features that resist grout penetration but then erode over time? Can any grout treatment ever be considered as a permanent seepage barrier? Cutoff walls through embankment dams and their foundations are generally considered as a more permanent seepage barrier. However, do we have the means to construct a perfect seepage barrier wall, or are defects to be expected. Do these defects represent fundamental flaws that require risk mitigation? How can we verify that we have built an acceptable seepage barrier that meets the design intent?

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