Dam failure

Dam failure
The reservoir emptying through the failed Teton Dam

A dam is a barrier across flowing water that obstructs, directs or slows down the flow, often creating a reservoir, lake or impoundments. Most dams have a section called a spillway or weir over which, or through which, water flows, either intermittently or continuously, and some have hydroelectric power generation systems installed.

Dams are considered "installations containing dangerous forces" under International Humanitarian Law due to the massive impact of a possible destruction on the civilian population and the environment. Dam failures are comparatively rare, but can cause immense damage and loss of life when they occur.


Main causes of dam failure

International special sign for works and installations containing dangerous forces

Common causes of dam failure include:

Deliberate dam failure

A notable case of deliberate dam failure (prior to the Humanitarian Law rulings) was the British Royal Air Force Dambusters raid on Germany in World War II (codenamed "Operation Chastise"), in which three German dams were selected to be breached in order to impact on German infrastructure and manufacturing and power capabilities deriving from the Ruhr and Eder rivers. This raid later became the basis for several films.

List of major dam failures

Dam/incident Year Location Details
Marib Dam 575 Sheba, Yemen Unknown (possibly neglect)
Pantano de Puentes 1802 Lorca, Spain 608 deaths, 1800 houses and 40000 trees destroyed[1]
Dale Dike Reservoir 1864 South Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom Defective construction, small leak in wall grew until dam failed.
South Fork Dam 1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania, United States Blamed locally on poor maintenance by owners; court deemed it an "Act of God". Followed exceptionally heavy rainfall. Caused Johnstown flood.
Walnut Grove Dam 1890 Wickenburg, Arizona Territory, United States Heavy snow and rain following public calls by the dam's chief engineer to strengthen the earthen structure.
McDonald Dam 1900 Texas, United States Extreme current caused failure.
Austin Dam 1911 Austin, Pennsylvania, United States Poor design, use of dynamite to remedy structural problems.
Desná Dam 1916 Desná, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic) Construction flaws caused the dam failure
Lake Toxaway Dam 1916 Transylvania County, North Carolina Heavy rains caused the dam to give way. Dam was later rebuilt in the 1960s
Sweetwater Dam 1916 San Diego County, California Over-topped from flooding
Lower Otay Dam 1916 San Diego County, California Over-topped from flooding; 40 deaths
Gleno Dam 1923 Province of Bergamo, Italy Poor construction and design
Llyn Eigiau dam and the outflow also destroyed Coedty reservoir dam. 1925 Dolgarrog, North Wales, UK Contractor blamed cost-cutting in construction but 25" of rain had fallen in preceding 5 days. This was the last dam failure to cause death in the UK to date (2010).
St. Francis Dam 1928 Valencia, California, Los Angeles County, United States Geological instability of canyon wall that could not have been detected with available technology of the time, combined with human error that assessed developing cracks as "normal" for a dam of that type.
Nanty Gro Reservoir in Wales 1942 Nanty Gro Valley, Wales Destroyed during preparation for Operation Chastise in World War II.
Eder, Möhne Dams 1943 Eder Valley, Ruhr, Germany Destroyed by bombing during Operation Chastise in World War II.
Vega de Tera 1959 Ribadelago, Spain 144 deaths[2][3]
Malpasset 1959 Côte d'Azur, France Geological fault possibly enhanced by explosives work during construction; initial geo-study was not thorough.
Baldwin Hills Reservoir 1963 Los Angeles, California, United States Subsidence caused by over-exploitation of local oil field
Spaulding Pond Dam (Mohegan Park) 1963 Norwich, Connecticut, United States 6 deaths, more than $6 million estimated damages
Vaiont Dam 1963 Italy Strictly not a dam failure, since the dam structure did not collapse and is still standing. Filling the reservoir caused geological failure in valley wall, leading to 110 km/h landslide into the lake; water escaped in a seiche over the top of dam. Valley had been incorrectly assessed stable.
Mina Plakalnitsa, (Vratsa) 1966 Vratsa, Bulgaria A tailings dam at Plakalnitsa copper mine near the city of Vratsa failed. A total 450,000 cu m of mud and water inundated Vratsa and the nearby village of Zgorigrad, which suffered widespread damage. The official death toll is 107, but the unofficial estimate is around 500 killed. [4]
Buffalo Creek Flood 1972 West Virginia, United States Unstable loose constructed dam created by local coal mining company, collapsed in heavy rain
Canyon Lake Dam 1972 South Dakota, United States Flooding, dam outlets flooded with debris.
Banqiao and Shimantan Dams 1975 China Extreme rainfall beyond the planned design capability of the dam
Teton Dam 1976 Idaho, United States Water leakage through earthen wall, leading to dam failure.
Laurel Run Dam 1977 Pennsylvania, United States Heavy rainfall and flooding that over-topped the dam.
Kelly Barnes Dam 1977 Georgia, United States Unknown, possibly design error as dam was raised several times by owners to improve power generation.
Machchu-2 Dam 1979 Gujarat, India Heavy rain and flooding beyond spillway capacity.
Wadi Qattara Dam 1979 Benghazi, Libya Flooding beyond discharge and storage capacity damaged the main dam and destroyed the secondary dam in the scheme.
Lawn Lake Dam 1982 Rocky Mountain National Park, United States Outlet pipe erosion; dam under-maintained due to location
Tous Dam 1982 Valencia, Spain  
Val di Stava Dam collapse 1985 Italy Poor maintenance and low margin for error in design; outlet pipes failed leading to pressure on dam.
Peruća Dam detonation 1993 Croatia Not strictly a dam failure as there was a detonation of pre-positioned explosives by retreating Serb Forces.
Saguenay Flood 1996 Quebec, Canada Problems started after two weeks of constant rain, which severely engorged soils, rivers and reservoirs. Post-flood enquiries discovered that the network of dikes and dams protecting the city was poorly maintained.
Meadow Pond Dam 1996 New Hampshire, United States Design and construction deficiencies resulted in failure in heavy icing conditions
Opuha Dam 1997 New Zealand Heavy rain during construction caused failure, dam was later completed
Vodní nádrž Soběnov 2002 Soběnov, Czech Republic Extreme rainfall during the 2002 European floods
Ringdijk Groot-Mijdrecht 2003 Wilnis, Netherlands Peat dam became lighter than water during droughts and floated away
Hope Mills Dam 2003 North Carolina, United States Heavy rains caused earthen dam and bank to wash away
Big Bay Dam 2004 Mississippi, United States A small hole in the dam, grew bigger and eventually led to failure.
Camará Dam 2004 Brasil  
Shakidor Dam 2005 Pakistan Sudden and extreme flooding caused by abnormally severe rain, 70 deaths
Taum Sauk reservoir 2005 Lesterville, Missouri, United States Computer/operator error; gauges intended to mark dam full were not respected; dam continued to fill. Minor leakages had also weakened the wall through piping.
Campos Novos Dam 2006 Campos Novos, Brazil Tunnel collapse
Gusau Dam 2006 Gusau, Nigeria Heavy flooding
Ka Loko Dam 2006 Kauai, Hawaii Heavy rain and flooding. Several possible specific factors to include poor maintenance, lack of inspection and illegal modifications.
Lake Delton June 9th, 2008 Lake Delton, Wisconsin Failure due to June 2008 Midwest floods.
Koshi Barrage 2008 Kusha, Nepal Heavy rain.
Situ Gintung Dam 2009 Tangerang, Indonesia Poor maintenance and heavy monsoon rain
Kyzyl-Agash Dam 2010 Kazakhstan Heavy rain and snowmelt
Hope Mills Dam 2010 North Carolina, United States Sinkhole caused dam failure
Delhi Dam 2010 Iowa, United States Heavy rain, flooding.
Ajka alumina plant accident October 4, 2010 Hungary Failure of concrete impound wall on alumina plant tailings dam.
Kenmare Resources tailings dam October 8, 2010 Mozambique Failure of tailings dam at titanium mine.
Fujinuma Dam March 11, 2011 Japan Failed after 2011 Tōhoku earthquake.


  1. ^ La rotura del pantano de Puentes
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ 40 años de la tragedia de Ribadelago, en la que murieron 144 personas (Spanish)
  4. ^ http://zgorigrad.com/tragediata

External links

See also

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