Improved software application can better predict earth dam erosion processes: USDA ARS


Contact: Maribel Alonso
Email: [email protected]

July 27, 2021

USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and engineers collaborated with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Kansas State University (KSU) to expand applicability a computer model capable of evaluating the vulnerabilities of earthen dams and predicting possible dam failures which could have serious consequences.

Windows Dam Analysis Modules (WinDAM) and its recent version, WinDAM C, is a software application made up of various calculation algorithms capable of analyzing and predicting situations where internal crossing or erosion can cause failure. in cohesive earth dams.

“We wanted to develop a reliable tool that predicts not only the progression of erosion and the potential failure of the dam when water flows over it, but also the progression of erosion and failure if the dam were to develop an internal hole. “said Sherry Hunt, research manager at Stillwater’s hydraulic engineering research unit, OK. “With WinDAM C, we can determine how quickly a coherent earthen dam can erode and when to rupture using scenarios based on soil parameters, reservoir storage and water flow in the reservoir. . “

USDA-NRCS assists local sponsors in the construction of earthen dams through the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program. Local sponsors are required to maintain the dams using NRCS guidelines. Over the years, land use changes and population growth associated with environmental and meteorological constraints imposed on these dams have led to the need to rehabilitate these dams. This led to the development of the USDA-NRCS Watershed Rehabilitation Program. New strategies were needed to prioritize the more than 6,000 dams that were beyond their expected lifespan. WinDAM C is currently used to identify the vulnerabilities of earth dams and to help prioritize sites to be rehabilitated or withdrawn from service. This software was developed using large scale physical models and validated using real case studies.

Hydraulic engineers Greg Hanson and Sherry Hunt attend the start of a cutterhead widening test, which will help them understand the widening component of the dam failure process.

Earth dams are mostly built with compacted layers of soil. Even though earthen dams are safe, over time and changes in the environment water may overflow from the dam, or the dam may develop vulnerabilities in its structure, causing leakage and possibly breach. Internal dam erosion can be initiated by animal burrows, rotting tree roots, or defects due to poor soil compaction along the main spillway pipe.

Dams are important to the USDA because these infrastructures play an important role in agriculture in rural areas, as they are essential for irrigation purposes and water supply for animal production. Dams also provide many benefits including downstream flood control, municipal water supply for economic growth, and recreational opportunities such as those we enjoy in the summer season like fishing, boating, hiking, swimming and camping.

“There is still work to be done. Predicting a dam failure is not just a national problem but a global problem. Scientists and engineers must continue this ongoing global effort to validate current and new models so that “They are effective tools for identifying vulnerabilities in order to prevent possible dam failures. Public safety is paramount to the USDA.” Hunt said.

The WinDAM C study was published in the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

The Agricultural Research Service is the principal in-house scientific research organization of the United States Department of Agriculture. Daily, ARS focuses on solutions to agricultural problems affecting America. Every dollar invested in agricultural research has an economic impact of $ 17.


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