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Open AccessArticle

Optimized Design of Earth Dams: Analysis of Zoning and Heterogeneous Material in Its Core

Departament of Geotechnical Engineering, Escuela Técnica Superior de Caminos, Canales y Puertos, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, 28040 Madrid, Spain
Russia Department of Building materials and technologies, Emperor Alexander I Petersburg State Transport University, 190031 Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Department of Constructing Mining Enterprises and Underground Structures, Saint-Petersburg Mining University, 199106 Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2020, 12(16), 6667;
Received: 20 July 2020 / Revised: 10 August 2020 / Accepted: 13 August 2020 / Published: 18 August 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Sustainable Engineering and Science)
To control the seepage in the design of an earth dam, guidelines prescribe a high proportion of fines and high homogeneity of geotechnical characteristics in the material used for the dam core. However, on many occasions there is no material of this nature near the dam placement and, from an economic or environmental point of view, it is not possible to locate and transport material with good geotechnical characteristics close to the dam. This research demonstrated the possibility of using impermeable materials in earth dam cores, as well as soils considered unsuitable according to the classic recommendations and guidelines. For an optimized design, two situations are analyzed here. First, we examined the possibility of using soil with a marked difference in grain size as the core of the dam, each with homogeneous geotechnical properties. In this case, the optimal zoning of up to three types of materials was studied to ensure adequate seepage control. Second, we examined the use of soil with great geotechnical heterogeneity, which presents high permeability dispersion. In such a case, the conditions that would allow its use were studied via the of Montecarlo analysis. By maintaining the soil’s global heterogeneity, it was possible to study an unlimited disposition of layers of different permeability. In the first situation, the results showed that the most effective zoning for decreasing seepage flow corresponded with three vertically set materials. In this design, the most optimized zoning (minimal seepage flow rates) corresponded to the most impermeable soil situated downstream when water heights were under 90% of the height of the dam core. However, for maximum water height, more optimized cases corresponded to the intermediate permeability material located downstream. In the second situation, when heterogeneous materials were used to construct the impervious element of the dams, the Montecarlo analysis indicated that the seepage flow rates were limited to sufficiently low values despite the large dispersion of material permeability. In addition, the highest maximum hydraulic gradients were observed in the lowest lifts of the dam core and for situations in which the seepage flow rates were moderate and low. View Full-Text
Keywords: heterogeneous material; earth dam; seepage; Darcy’s law; optimization heterogeneous material; earth dam; seepage; Darcy’s law; optimization
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Sánchez-Martín, J.; Galindo, R.; Arévalo, C.; Menéndez-Pidal, I.; Kazanskaya, L.; Smirnova, O. Optimized Design of Earth Dams: Analysis of Zoning and Heterogeneous Material in Its Core. Sustainability 2020, 12, 6667.

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