ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox

Foundation Evaluation

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According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO), the five most likely causes of dam failures are: overtopping, foundation defects, cracking, inadequate maintenance and upkeep, and piping.[1] In order to prevent a dam failure, a properly designed foundation is essential.

“The earth embankment and its foundation must be stable and withstand all anticipated loads without movements leading to failure. Provide measures for adequate seepage control under all anticipated loads.” [2]

"The purpose of conducting an investigation of foundation and earth materials is to obtain information about these materials for use in analysis, design, construction, and performance monitoring of a structure. The detail of the investigation should be commensurate with the magnitude and type of structure involved, the study being undertaken, and the stage of the project. On all dam projects, the watertightness of the foundations, the suitability of the foundations for the dam and appurtenant structures, and the construction material sources are important geological and engineering considerations."[3]

Types of Foundations

Types of Foundation Evaluations

The situations below are common issues examined through foundation evaluation:

Best Practices Resources

Technical Release 210-60: Earth Dams and Reservoirs, NRCS

Design Standards No. 13: Embankment Dams (Ch. 15: Foundation Grouting), USBR

Design Standards No. 13: Embankment Dams (Ch. 16: Cutoff Walls)

Design Standards No. 13: Embankment Dams (Ch. 12: Foundation and Earth Materials Investigation), USBR

Engineering Guidelines for the Evaluation of Hydropower Projects: Chapter 4- Embankment Dams, FERC

Rock Foundations (EM 1110-1-2908), USACE


On-Demand Webinar: Evaluation and Maintenance of Piezometers, Relief Wells, and Drains in Dams and Levees

On-Demand Webinar: Advances in Geologic Data Collection and 3D Geologic Modeling for Site Characterization and Safety Studies for Dams and Levees

On-Demand Webinar: Foundation Cutoff Walls for Dams and Levees

On-Demand Webinar: Foundation Preparation and Treatment for Dam Construction

On-Demand Webinar: Introduction to Grouting for Dams


Revision ID: 7083
Revision Date: 07/11/2023