|All dams need adequate spillway capacity. Learn more at DamFailures.org
Hydrology is essential not only in the design of a dam, but also in the feasibility study of a dam and in assessments of the dam looking to the future as the state-of-the-practice evolves. The three main components of flood hydrology, according to the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) are “(1) hydrometeorology related to probable maximum precipitation determinations, (2) probable maximum flood hydrograph determinations, and (3) statistics and probabilities relating to the magnitude and frequency of flood flows”.
“One of the most common causes of dam failures is the inability to safely pass flood flows. Failures caused by hydrologic conditions can range from sudden failure, with complete breaching or collapse of the dam, to gradual failure, with progressive erosion and partial breaching”. Therefore, hydrologic studies are among the most important sources of information when it comes to dam safety.
Hydrologic Design Criteria
“Selection of an Inflow Design Flood (IDF) for a new dam or a dam undergoing significant modifications should take into account both current conditions and reasonably anticipated future development. Development within the upstream watershed can cause increased runoff and peak flows, while development within the downstream inundation area can alter hazard potential classification and specific estimates of consequences of hydrologic events… When the cost of more detailed methods such as incremental consequence analysis, a site-specific probable maximum precipitation study, or risk-informed hydrologic hazard analysis is prohibitive, prescriptive IDF criteria for High, Significant, and Low Hazard dams are recommended”.
The applicability and acceptability of various hydrologic methods varies widely across the US. Familiarity with the primary runoff generating mechanisms based on the geology, topography, meteorology, and seasonality of the region are paramount to inflow design flood determination. Guidelines and regulations related to hydrologic methods and the inflow design flow also vary based on regulatory jurisdiction.
Types of Evaluations
- Low Flow Conditions
- Normal Flow Conditions
- Flood Conditions
- Unusual or Changing Conditions in a Watershed
High and significant hazard dams should be designed to pass an appropriate design flood. Dams constructed prior to the availability of extreme rainfall data should be assessed to make sure they have adequate spillway capacity. Learn more at DamFailures.org
Best Practices Resources
Revision ID: 7172
Revision Date: 07/11/2023