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Research Progress of Dike Leak Rescue Technology

Yellow River Institute of Hydraulic Research, Yellow River Conservancy Commission, Zhengzhou 450003, China
School of Water Conservancy and Civil Engineering, Zhengzhou University, Zhengzhou 450001, China
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Water 2023, 15(5), 903;
Submission received: 29 January 2023 / Revised: 18 February 2023 / Accepted: 21 February 2023 / Published: 26 February 2023
(This article belongs to the Section Water Erosion and Sediment Transport)


Leaks refer to seepage holes running through a dike body or foundation, the formation of which may pose dire threats to dike safety and cause dike breaching due to a large flow rate and strong scouring force. Once the water inlet of a leak is detected, sealing and rescue measures should be taken in accordance with the principle of “inlet plugging and outlet anti-filtration”. The key is the quick filling and stability of the plugging materials. Herein, the rescue technology of dike leaks is systematically laid out; the formation causes and development mechanism of the leaks are analyzed; the dike leak detection, plugging, and sealing technology is summarized; and the future research direction is clarified. Existing plugging technology and equipment are complicated and time-consuming. Hence, plugging methods should be innovated and improved to effectively improve the efficiency and success rate of emergency rescues. A new concept of “grade-by-grade plugging and sealing” is correspondingly proposed for dike leaks, changing leak rescues from “single-level plugging and sealing at the leak inlet” to “grade-by-grade plugging and sealing at the portal and inside the leak”. A tandem closed space is formed in the leak. The hydrodynamic pressure is changed from the independent bearing of the portal to the gradual bearing of the plugging materials at the portal and inside the leak.

1. Introduction

Dikes are an important engineering measure for flood control and safety and serve as the last line of defense and barrier for large rivers [1]. According to the data of the first national water conservancy survey, the total length of dikes in China was 413,679 km, including 275,495 km of dikes of Level 5 and above [2]. By the end of 2020, 328,000 km [3] of river dikes of Level 5 or above had been built nationwide, protecting 650 million people and 420,000 km2 of cultivated land.
Dikes are mostly built along rivers and lakes. Influenced by historical factors, some dikes are dangerous due to poor foundation conditions or construction quality. Leaks, water seepage, piping, collapse, and other dangerous situations often occur during the flood season or when the dike is soaked in water. “An ant may well destroy a whole dam”. In all kinds of dangerous situations, leaks pose an immense threat to dike security. After formation of a leak, the large flow rate and the strong scouring force may cause the collapse of the dike. From 1855 to 1938, there were 34 dike disasters along the Yellow River caused by leaks [4,5]; in the great autumn floods since 1949, 830 leaks were found in the downstream dikes of the Yellow River [6]; during the flood seasons of 1951 and 1955, leaks in the Lijin Section of the Yellow River led to two dike breaches. In the flood season of 1998, 73,825 [7] hazards occurred in the dikes of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, including 16,421 leak hazards (232 large hazards) [8], accounting for 22.2% of the total hazards.
In recent years, the construction and reinforcement of dikes have been carried out continuously, and the flood control standards of key dikes have been significantly improved after treatment. However, the statistical data [9,10] show that the rate of standard Level 5 dikes and above is only 73.0% (the standard-reaching rate of Level 1 and 2 dikes is 83.1%). Some dikes are still not up to proper standards, and the new and old hidden dangers in some sections have not been completely removed. There are still dangerous sections of river dikes that affect their safe operation. Leak hazards still occur from time to time, such as in the flood control levee on the west line of the Yonggu Embankment in Huarong County in July 2020 [11] and in the two levees of Fuhe River in Xiaogan City [12]; water leakage from the culvert passing through the embankment culvert in Peng Village, Junxian County, Weihe River occurred at 17:00 on 22 July 2021, and the dikes collapsed and burst at about 22:00 [13].
The rescue of dike leaks should follow the principle of “inlet plugging and outlet anti-filtration” and should “rescue early and rescue when it is not severe” [1,6]. After detecting the location of leaks, the existing technology usually divides “inlet plugging” into two stages, i.e., plugging and sealing. Each stage has special methods and corresponding equipment, but there are problems such as complex and time-consuming rescue organization, making it urgent to develop new technologies and new equipment for leak-plugging. Herein, the rescue technology of dike leaks is systematically laid out; the formation causes and development mechanism of leaks are analyzed; dike leak detection, plugging, and sealing technology is summarized; and the new concept of “grade-by-grade plugging and sealing” is proposed.

2. Dike Leak Mechanism

2.1. Leak Definition

Changxi M. et al. [14,15] defined the leak hazard as, in the case of high water levels during the flood season, when there are seepage holes across the embankment or embankment foundation near the downstream slope and slope toe. According to the turbidity degree of the water flow in the leak, the leak is divided into a clear water leak and a muddy water leak. The water flow changing from a clear state to a muddy one indicates that the dike is expanding rapidly, which will endanger the safety of the dike. In the practice of dike project rescues, management and technical personnel share similar definitions of dike leaks, such as water holes running through the dike body [16], overflow channels running through the dike body or foundation [17,18], and water channels running through the dike body or foundation [19] on the back slope of the dike at a high water level, etc. According to the above definition, the dike leak hazard occurs at a high water level and is found near the embankment slope or the slope foot, which is characterized by the formation of a seepage channel running through the dike body or the dike foundation.
Water seepage, piping, flowing soil, and leaks are the dangers faced in terms of dike penetration and damage, the first three of which can develop and evolve into leaks under certain conditions. Therefore, many examples in the literature [1,20,21] define leak hazard as seepage, piping, or flowing soil not rescued in a timely fashion that will continue to develop and gradually form a seepage channel running through the dike or foundation; conditions are the most dangerous when muddy water with sand flows out of the leak.

2.2. Formation Causes for Leaks

As mentioned above, a leak “runs through the dike body or foundation” due to “leakage caused by long-time immersion” (direct cause), that is, under the condition of a continuous high water level, or when the dike body or foundation is immersed for a long time, and internal erosion and seepage damage occur, leading to the leak hazard. On the other hand, the poor condition of dike soil is the internal cause of the leak hazard, which was summarized by Fuling [22], Zili [23], Yinglin [24], Qingli [25], Bin [26], and others. First, the dike earth materials are of poor filling quality, with an overhead structure due to significant sand content and insufficient rolling compaction; second, the foundation is not completely cleaned during dike construction, which leads to hidden hazards: (1) historical factors give rise to the sand layer (strong permeable layer) in the dike; (2) there are termite, rat, and other animal caves or cracks formed by tree roots in the dike body or foundation; (3) wood and other materials used in the dike breach and dangerous sections are not removed in a timely fashion; (4) the old culvert and cellar in the dike are not completely removed; (5) a seepage passage is formed at the earth rock joint between the dike and the building crossing the dike due to contact scouring; (6) an embankment located in the area of the old meander bed was not recognized as a highly permeable layer.

2.3. Leak Formation and Development Mechanism

In all kinds of dike dangers, the research on the relevant mechanism mainly focuses on the piping danger [27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35]. As one of the most serious and dangerous hazards in dike engineering, the leak mechanism has not received as much research attention.
Caldeira [36] believed that internal soil erosion is the main cause of accidents such as dike leaks; internal erosion develops locally along leak channels or zones featuring high permeability and a high flow rate. At the junction of coarse and fine materials, the flow velocity of coarse particles is higher than that of adjacent fine materials. The imbalance in soil particles causes internal erosion. Taking the infiltration collapse of the Keanu River embankment in Japan in September 2015 as an example, Yasuda [37] investigated the soil condition of the embankment and the seepage damage process in detail and pointed out that the dike was built on a loose alluvial layer; the high water level caused the flowing soil, which gradually developed into leaks, and the instability of the loose soil layer of the leaks eventually caused the continuous incremental collapse.
Jianqiang et al. [15] explained the mechanism of dike seepage and erosion by taking the dikes of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River as an example. Most leaks are developed by concentrating seepage. After the occurrence, the seepage path shortens, the outlet seepage gradient increases, and the possibility of seepage damage increases. The scouring effect of the concentrated seepage in the leak extends the loophole, increases the leak diameter, and eventually penetrates into the dike, thus causing the dike to collapse.
Zili [38] carried out a study on the formation and development mechanism of dike leaks in the Yellow River and found that the formation and development of the leaks are subject to the combined effect of high-speed water erosion in the tunnel and tunnel wall collapse. The whole process, divided into formation stage, slow development stage, rapid development stage, and collapse stage, is slow at first and then becomes acute. After the formation of leaks, the pressure inside is not as strong as that outside, and a suction force occurs at the water inlet; the suction value is positively correlated with the flow velocity in the leaks. When the “inlet plugging” measure is used to cover the hole, instantaneous negative pressure is generated, which has an impact similar to a “water hammer” on the plugging material. With the increasing leak diameter, the flow velocity in the leak presents an increasing trend—a small rate at the leak inlet and a large rate at the pressure section or outlet. With other factors remaining unchanged, the lower the outlet position (the greater the water head) is, the greater the velocity in the leak becomes. The pressure in the leaks tends to decrease, that is, pressure flow → semi-pressure flow → full open flow; the pressure along the distance is the maximum at the inlet and the minimum at the outlet.
Research on the dike leak mechanism is the basis for a successful rescue. After clarifying the cause and development process of the “internal erosion” for leak formation, the focus of theoretical research should be placed on the inlet flow field, magnitude, and distribution of plugging instantaneous pressure, as well as formation rules and critical conditions of the inlet vortex, the impact of the collapse process in the tunnel, and single-stage and multi-stage plugging in the tunnel after the development of leaks, so as to further clarify the development mechanism of leaks and to provide theoretical support for the research and development of plugging technology and equipment.

3. Positioning Technology at the Leak Inlet

In the practice of emergency flood fighting, leak hazards are usually investigated and judged according to whether the outlet is found on the embankment slope or the foot, and the severity of the danger is judged according to the size of the outlet and the turbidity of the water flow. Upon the occurrence of leaks, the premise of successful plugging is to choose an applicable technology to quickly determine the water inlet position. According to the application timeliness, the leak inlet positioning technology can be divided into two categories, i.e., dike hidden danger detection and emergency detection.
In the non-flood season or when no danger occurs, dike leaks may be identified and positioned using hazard detection technology, such as manual exploration, drilling, and geophysical exploration [39]. Xingxin [40] carried out underground leak detection of a dam using ground-penetrating radar (GPR) technology and accurately located cracks in a white ant nest and clay core inside the dam; Yanjie [41], Liqun [41], and Xianfeng [42] summarized the detection and identification technology of typical hidden dangers in embankments, analyzed the applicability of hazard detection technology in dike projects such as the high-density electric method and GPR, and pointed out that accurate results might be obtained by verifying different technologies.
Leak rescue should follow the principle of “rescuing early and rescuing when it is not severe”. In addition to the above dike hazard detection technologies, after the discovery of hazards in flood season, it is more important to determine the position of the leak inlet using the emergency detection technology and provide the basic conditions for the plugging operation. The emergency detection technology of dike leak inlets can be divided into the following categories.

3.1. Surface Flow Field Observation Method

3.1.1. Artificial Observation Method

Leaks penetrate into the water flow channel, with the inlet and outlet lower than the river surface. According to the inlet depth, leaks can be divided into deep water leaks and shallow water leaks (there are two standards of 1.5 m and 2.0 m, depending on the rescue experience [6,24]). The pressure flow is adopted inside the leak. In the case of a small inlet water depth of pipe pressure, the nearby water surface will produce a vortex [43,44,45,46,47], making it the most direct and easiest method for shallow water leaks to determine the inlet position by observing whether the water surface produces a vortex. This very method should be highlighted for shallow water leaks and unclear leaks, regardless of any limitations. The leak inlet and outlet are usually not in the same embankment section. During observation, the observation range should be expanded based on the water surface of the leak outlet corresponding to the adjacent embankment slope.
In addition to directly observing the water surface, attempts can also be made to throw floating objects such as wheat bran, weeds, broken branches, paper boards, etc., onto the water surface, so as to judge the existence of a vortex on the water surface through the flow situation [48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57] and spot the location; the inlet position can be determined by adding lime, potassium permanganate, and other tracers [57] to observe the water color. When the danger occurs at night, a fluorescent agent or accelerant can be added to the floating object, so that the flow situation can be observed by lighting equipment or burning floating objects and so that the general position of the water inlet can be spotted.

3.1.2. UAV PIV Technology

At present, UAV, which provides support for emergency flood fighting by means of images, video surveillance, and 3D modeling, is widely applied to emergency flood fighting [58]. In the case of leak rescue, PIV (particle image velocimetry) can be used as an image acquisition platform to shoot water surface videos at a fixed altitude. After real-time transmission, LSPIV (large-scale PIV) [59] can be used to quickly obtain the surface flow field and determine the existence of a vortex. During the autumn flood season of the Yellow River in 2021, the Yellow River Institute of Hydraulic Research [60] used DJI Phantom4 RTK UAV to obtain the videos of the Heigangkou downstream extension project. Image analysis was conducted to interpret the surface flow field and judge the water flow in dangerous waters using PIV technology, as shown in Figure 1.

3.2. Underwater Detection Method

3.2.1. Traditional Detection Method

When the inlet water is deep and no vortex has formed on the water’s surface, the inlet position is determined using the underwater detection method. Nianbin [16] carried out demonstration tests on dike leak detection and plugging, and simulated traditional leak detection methods such as the bamboo pole hanging ball method, the bamboo pole detection method, and the method with several people stepping side by side; Yingwu [57] put forward leakage detection methods using hemp stalk, tarpaulin, and a mat; Xinzhong [61] analyzed the suitable environment and conditions of the diving detection method and proposed a leak detection method using a “cross” rotary rod on the basis of guaranteeing the safety of the diver. This very method is a simple device built from local materials in leak rescue, and the specific operation depends more on the experience of the operator. When the inlet flow rate is large, manual diving exploration will bring serious personal safety risks.

3.2.2. Special Detection Device

To improve the efficiency, sensitivity, and accuracy of dike leak detection, rescue technicians have successively developed electronic and automatic detection devices such as the multi-functional portable detection rod [62], the ZDT-I portable dike hazard detector [63], the dike patrol alarm [64], and the dike leak hazard locator [65] following the principles of velocity difference, water temperature difference, conductivity change, etc. Yushan [66] developed three leak detection devices—float, plugging detector, and alarm, applicable to the conditions of a small flow rate, small hole diameter, thin vegetation coverage of embankment slope, and no floating objects.
Marcak [67] applied GPR in dike leakage detection; Schulz [68] constructed a low-cost system for dam leakage detection (LDS) based on a wireless sensor network. Based on the groundwater chemistry and the isotopic composition, Hai [69] analyzed and monitored dike leakage passages using fuzzy clustering; Artieres [70] determined the dam leakage position using fiber optic monitoring technology; Mars [71] identified dam leakages by constructing a distributed temperature sensor (DTS); Khan [72,73] identified dike leakages using the DTS dike leakage detection method based on temperature data; Bersan [74] applied DTS to dam leakage and piping detection.
The successive emergence and application of special detection devices have provided equipment support for leak rescue. However, it cannot meet the requirements for “rescue early and rescue small” in dike leaks. The timeliness and accuracy of the equipment still need to be further improved.

3.2.3. Application of UUV in Leak Detection

In recent years, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV) have been widely used in emergency flood fighting and hydraulic structure detection [75,76,77,78,79,80]. Jun [81] conducted underwater nondestructive testing on the Beijing Yuhong project using UUV-carrying sonar and tracking devices; Wengao [82] monitored concrete cracks using a UUV-carrying HD camera; Ce [83] detected and verified piping inlets using a UUV and tracer; Fu [78] set up an underwater detection system based on the UUV tracking device to judge the leakage and locate the sonar; Changfu [84] developed a UUV intelligent detection system and automatically detected abnormalities through image recognition; Wei [85] developed a UUV detection device containing an underwater leakage detection module; Weixi [86] realized underwater short-distance and high-precision quantitative scanning measurements based on multi-beam combined remote control UUV.
In the field of marine resources exploration and development, long-range ultra-short baseline positioning systems realize positioning, tracking, and data transmission of deep-sea moving targets using underwater acoustic positioning technology [87,88,89]. Relevant research results of ultra-short baseline positioning technology [90,91,92] carried out by the UUV platform provide a reference solution for detecting deep-water leak inlet positions of dikes.
In the above techniques, the UUV works in clear water, still water, or low current environments, and its adaptability to muddy water and large-flow environments has yet to be further verified and studied. Water flow is turbid in the flood season, and the turbidity is greater after the water at the inlet is scoured in the case of a dike leak hazard. Therefore, underwater visual quality should be improved when the UUV is used to detect leaks [93], so that it is suitable for turbid waters.

4. Leak Plugging Technology

According to the principles of “inlet plugging and outlet anti-filtration” [1,6,23,94,95] and the actual environment, suitable technology and equipment shall plug the inlet after the inlet position is determined on the water side. At the same time, reverse filtration measures should be adopted in the water outlet to prevent the loss of soil particles and avoid an increase in danger. Air shall be blocked with loose soil or clay after plugging. The plugging process is shown in Figure 2.

4.1. Classification of Plugging Methods

In the practice of dike leak rescues, “inlet plugging” technology is generally divided into plug plugging, cover plugging, and the berm method, which have been analyzed and summarized by Xuemei [55], Zhenglong [49], Xianlong [96], Chunxia [97], Qingle [56], and Haiwen [98]. Plug plugging is suitable for an environment featuring a shallow water depth, a small leak diameter, and hard soil on the embankment slope. Soft wedges or other special plugging devices made of cotton products, woven bags, and other materials are usually plugged into the water inlet and closely fitted with the leak wall to block or reduce water flow. For example, in 1998, muddy water leaks in the embankment section of the Zhongnan Oil Depot in Danshui Pool, the main embankment of the Yangtze River, were sealed with cotton quilts and blankets [99]. Cover plugging is suitable for flat conditions with a large hole and a smooth embankment slope. Large area materials such as tarpaulins and wooden boards or special capping equipment are used to cover the leak inlet, extend the seepage diameter, and slow down the flow velocity in the leak. The berm method is applicable to conditions with more dike leaks, a wide distribution range, and an uncertain inlet. The method of throwing clay to fill the front berm or building a semilunar dike shall be adopted for emergency rescues. In July 1998, 18 leak hazards occurred in the Fucaohu Section of the Qihe Chidong Branch Embankment [100], and the plugging was completed by means of “berm + back water diversion”. When an individual method fails, two or more methods may be combined [56] according to the actual hazards to improve the plugging success rate.
The rescue methods shall be “practical and workable” and be correspondingly adjusted and improved according to the hazards and environment. Bin [101] analyzed the important role of special tools and man-machine cooperation in emergency rescues through the plugging drill test, and pointed out that emergency rescue methods and processes should be tested following the principle of “application and suitability” in practice; Zhiyong [54] analyzed common underwater leakage plugging measures and proposed to determine the personnel and plugging equipment through an underwater operation safety evaluation. Taking the embankment leak hazards of Poyang Lake in 2020 as an example, Yonghui [102] expounded on the plugging methods of “excavating and leak cleaning + clay backfill compaction” and “backwater trunk anti-filtration”, and proposed dam securing technology with “cross” flanges and steel pipe piles.
In addition to the emergency plugging of the water inlet, high-density polyethylene interlocking plates can be installed at the embankment foundation to monitor leakage and reinforce the dike in the case of a large embankment body [103]; drilling holes and high-pressure spraying expansion materials [104] can be used to improve the embankment strength while plugging leaks. Lei [105] applied high-pressure jet grouting technology to treat the initial hazards of dike leaks and formed a high wall in the dike body and the dike foundation to block the seepage channel.

4.2. Plugging Materials

Historically, there was no special plugging material for the rescue of dike leaks, and cotton-padded clothes, quilts, oilcloth, straw bags, and woven bags could be used to plug leaks. In recent years, according to the needs of the leak rescue, non-water reaction polymer and polymer grouting technology has been widely used in dike leakage rescue engineering [106,107,108,109,110]; SAP with expansibility and sealing and high-strength geosynthetic materials have been developed and applied.

4.2.1. SAP

Super absorbent polymers (SAP) may be rapidly expanded in water and are made into expansion bags for flood control and rescue thanks to their high water absorption rate [111]. By improving the SAP composition and process, the water absorption rate can be increased, and the water absorption time can be reduced. Lianwei [112,113] developed a flood-control and impermeable material composed of polyacrylic acid, polyacrylamide, bentonite, and plant fiber, which can absorb hundreds of times its own weight in 3–5 min; Rang [114] developed anti-seepage and plugging materials composed of cement clinker, acrylic, phosphogypsum, graphite, and water, which perform excellently in compressive strength and tensile strength; Liang [115] developed an anti-seepage plugging material composed of cement, fly ash, gypsum, quartz sand, granulation blast furnace slag powder, and water, which can be rapidly solidified in humid environments and resist large water flow pressure; Liu Wenxian et al. developed a water-based plugging agent [116] by referring to the experience of oil well plugging, which was used for the plugging test of the Yellow River dikes.
The expansion timing of expansion materials such as SAP needs to be controlled while rescuing leaks. Early expansion will prevent materials from entering the leaks, and slow expansion will cause a failure in plugging. An expansion-controlled auxiliary device should be developed according to the requirements of leak-plugging operations.

4.2.2. Geosynthetic Materials

Geosynthetics used for emergency flood fighting include geotextile, a kind of permeable material, and geomembrane, a kind of synthetic material with a low permeability. Geosynthetic materials have been reserved as emergency flood fighting materials by the State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters since 1991 [117]. In June 1991, while handling the leak hazards at 6I of the Chuhe Xiandie embankment section, an earth bag was used to tamp the sinkhole, a geomembrane was used to intercept the seepage at the water-facing slope, and a non-woven fabric was used to make the anti-filter well at the outlet, which jointly contributed to the final success of the rescue.
In addition to their application in anti-filtration and soil retention at the leak outlet [118], geosynthetic materials are mostly used in making soft curtains suitable for covering and plugging. Youlian [53] analyzed the characteristics and adaptability of geosynthetic soft curtain materials; Lumin [119], Rui [120], Zhuwen [121], and Yinhua [52] studied and improved the permeable soft water curtain and proposed that the existence of many leaks can be blocked with a large-area permeable soft curtain; Xiquan [17] made emergency rescue appliances (such as water filled bags, geoclay soft wedges, geotextile web soft curtains, and geotextile spider web soft curtains) using geosynthetics, and determined the selection method of geosynthetics through the testing of plugging dike leaks.
However, geosynthetics are still subject to disadvantages such as deformation in water and difficulty in fitting the slope. Folding gaps are often formed after covering the leak inlet, which results in intensified scouring, making it necessary to cover the gap with soil or clay as soon as possible.

4.3. Leak-Plugging Equipment

4.3.1. Water-Side Plugging Equipment

In terms of plugging methods, plugging equipment can be divided into plugging bags for plugging, soft curtain equipment for capping, and “plugging + capping” combined equipment.
Wenzhen [111], taking high water absorption resin as the expansion agent, designed and made a water-absorbing expansion bag; Yabing [122] developed an inflatable rubber plugging device; Jun [123] developed a special plugging tool known as a frame type geotextile bag; Hongqi [124], Mingde [125], Jingwei [126], Bin [127], and Huai [128] also invented different forms of plugging bags; Kejun [129] developed a plugging bag for dam leaks; Hongle [130] developed emergency rescue pipes suitable for the plugging of dam piping.
The small density of geosynthetic materials generally exposes them to the effects of water flow and stormy waves. Considering the difficulties of using these materials for underwater laying [131], they are generally made into a soft curtain for leak rescue. For instance, Weihong [18] analyzed the effect of a soft curtain covering deep dike leaks from the perspective of the hydraulic characteristics and penetration process of the leaks, and pointed out that plugging leaks with a soft curtain would inevitably produce contact erosion. They claimed that the coverage range of the soft curtain should be increased, and a suitable pressure device should be used to ensure that the soft curtain fits the embankment slope; Yijun [132] developed an electric soft curtain deployment propeller; Xuguang [133] developed a waterproof plugging cloth; Jiansheng [134] developed a rolling-type, high-strength dam-plugging net; Sheng [135,136,137] developed a dam-plugging device consisting of waterproof cloth, a counterweight, and a propulsion mechanism; Tao Jiaqin [138] developed a flood control and plugging device applicable to large-area leakage detection and plugging; Tao [139] invented a dam-plugging device composed of a receiver, an alarm, and plugging cloth, and completed the leak rescue by working with the preset seepage pipeline in the dam.
In recent years, researchers have combined plugging and capping methods and developed a variety of “plugging + capping” combined equipment. For instance, Rui [140] developed a portable umbrella-shaped emergency leakage plug, which is composed of the umbrella body for plugging and the plug body for capping; Jinju [141] developed a dam-plugging device composed of grouting box, water injection pipe, feed pipe, mounting plate, thread sleeve, etc., the slurry of which may be filled in the leaks to plug them while capping; Xiaoyu [142] invented a self-search dike-plugging device; Yang [143] developed a dam-plugging barrier, which blocks the leaks after filling them with water or cement.
Based on the above materials and equipment, dike leak-plugging tests were carried out successively. The Yellow River Institute of Hydraulic Research [144] made a technical summary of the plugging drill in the Yellow River in 2000; Xining [145] carried out a dike leak rescue test using large net bags, pipe bag-type soft curtains, frame-type soft curtains, and water filtering soft drains, and verified the plugging and capping rescue effects on 2.1 m, 2.5 m, and 3.0 m of leaks; the Yellow River Institute of Hydraulic Research [146] carried out technical research on emergency flood fighting and summarized the technical advantages of emergency rescue equipment (walking soft curtain plugging machine, anti-filtration and seepage-guiding pile row, deep water leakage-stopping cone rubber bag, and fabricated rubber and plastic water basin); Fucang [4] and Fenglan [5] summarized the soft wedge plugging method, the soft mattress covering method, soft wedge and soft mattress combination method, and soft wedge, slurry-filled pipe bag-type soft curtain, and temporary bridge (or boat) combination plugging method at the waterside, the first three of which are considered suitable for shallow leaks, while the fourth is applicable to deep-water leaks (greater than 2.5 m); Xueliang [147] carried out a dike leak-plugging test, and plugged 0.25 m of leaks using chemical fiber cloth bags, clay balls, and straw-wrapped stones, as well as 0.40 m of leaks using chemical fiber woven cloth, chemical fiber rope mesh bags, and iron pot covers.
The above equipment rescues focus on “inlet plugging”, not involving grade-by-grade plugging and sealing, modified soil with high water absorption resin, and other related rescue methods. Guoqing [148,149,150] invented a duckweed dam leak-plugging device consisting of seven parts, i.e., (1) a position indicator at the leak inlet; (2) a duckweed floating object; (3) conical connection rope; (4) a highly absorbent resin ball; (5) a series rope; (6) a counterweight block; and (7) a traction rope, as shown in Figure 3. A tandem closed space is formed in the leak. This duckweed dam leak-plugging device is applicable to the integrated rescue operation of detection–plugging–sealing of deep-water leaks in dikes and dams. Adjust the length of the series rope according to the water depth at the water side of the dike, drag the device manually or on board to keep it in suspension, and move slowly from downstream to upstream. When the device moves near the inlet of the leak, the water pressure and the water suction at the hole will suck the counterweight block and SAP series rope into the leak hole, and the duckweed will sink and be fixed at the outside of the water inlet under the pressure difference between the inside and the outside. The water-soluble bag on the outer layer of the SAP ball is dissolved after immersion, and the SAP material expands rapidly after absorbing water. The ball is closely combined with the tunnel wall to form a series of closed spaces in the tunnel, achieving the effect of grade-by-grade plugging and sealing in the tunnel.

4.3.2. Backwater Seepage Equipment

Anti-filtering and seepage guiding measures may be taken at the backwater side for the plugging of the waterside to prevent coarse particles from flowing out, reduce the differences in the upstream and downstream face, and slow down the development of hazards. Heng and Weihong [151,152] developed a soft, high-strength, and impervious material, with a rigid material as its support. Using the water pressure difference inside and outside the bag, the bottom of the soft bag is found to tightly fit the ground to prevent the seepage of piping water; Weibing [153] invented a water storage enclosure for the emergency rescue of piping and leak hazards in flood season, including a cylindrical water storage well, a safety protection grid, a round operation hole, a counterweight bin, a water stop block, etc., which is convenient to make and handle, easy to learn, can be repeatedly used, and features good water-stopping effects.

4.4. Backwater Plugging Technology

Dike leaks are a major danger. The failure to rescue and plug leaks may cause the collapse of a dike. At present, the plugging method of “inlet plugging and outlet anti-filtration” is exposed to problems such as the difficulty of finding leaks and the difficulty of working in deep waters. To prevent dike leak hazards, the leak outlet should be first spotted, and the working face and working conditions should be determined. Therefore, some scholars put forward the idea of plugging the leaks from the backwater side.
According to the plugging mechanism, Jinglin [95] claimed that there should be enough of a seepage path to avoid seepage damage, and that the dam reinforcement works and dikes should be rescued separately. Under certain conditions, backwater plugging can be used as a temporary plugging measure. “Inlet plugging and outlet anti-filtration” should be undertaken after plugging the backwater and before the occurrence of a new seepage failure; Xinzhong [154] believed that the principle of leakage plugging is to balance the water pressure between the upstream and downstream face through engineering measures and put forward the idea of rescuing the dike leak hazards from the downstream face. The premise is that the dike can resist against the force of water scouring. Based on the indoor test and field drill results, Xianning [155] proposed plugging technology using the chemical grouting method to plug leaks by injecting rapid solidification materials and taking the slurry-retaining measures at the leak outlet.

5. Sealing

In the process of leak-plugging, sealing is one of the most important links. After plugging or capping, considering the constant existence of pores between the plugging material and the loophole wall, as well as a small amount of water in the hole, sealing measures should be taken to avoid the recurrence of leak hazards. Materials to be used for air closure should be determined according to the accident location and the environment, and loose soil, clay, or expansive materials should be selected locally. Some grain can be expanded after being soaked in water. In 1998, during the closure rescue of the Jiujiang Section of the Yangtze River Levee, 2700 t of rice, corn, soybeans, rice, and other grains were dumped and filled for leak stoppage and air closure [156,157]. Finally, a clay air closure scheme [158] was adopted to complete the sealing process after 48 h.
Dezhi [159] pointed out that the sealing reinforcement is to ensure that no new seepage damage will occur at the leak. The key to loose soil plugging and sealing is the efficiency of the throwing soil, making it necessary to ensure that the volume of plugged soil is greater than that being washed away; in addition, loose soil is less likely to be compacted under emergency rescue conditions and has poor impermeable performance. In order to ensure no new infiltration damage will occur after air closure, it is still necessary to fill the earthwork. Mingquan [131] carried out research on the air closure technology of the Yellow River dike-plugging and proposed that the new engineering materials and technologies should be fully utilized to improve the traditional structure and material; Chunyu [160] believed that anti-seepage sealing is the last process of plugging. Generally, the method of throwing clay and the method of raising the basin can also be used to build crescent dikes for water storage.
Grouting is another technique for sealing. Weijia [161] applied high-pressure and double-pipe mortar plugging technology to the seepage prevention of earth rock cofferdam and solved the technical problems of air closure in the overhead area of the cofferdam with large leakage channels, concentrated leakage, and high flow velocity.

6. Outlook

In the practice of leak rescues, except for a few cases such as the excavation of the embankment body and grouting, the “inlet plugging” part is usually the leak inlet, i.e., single-level plugging at the inlet. The high water pressure and flow velocity of the leak inlet expose plugging materials to large dynamic water pressure and instantaneous negative pressure caused by the rapid change of the water flow in the leak. Plugging materials may flow away after being deformed and are easy to deform or form a new seepage channel, thereby leading to a poor plugging effect. For the single-stage plugging method of the water inlet, the single-stage air closure method outside the plugging material should be adopted accordingly, and the air closure part is also limited outside the water inlet. Single-stage air closure generally requires casting a large amount of clay, and unfavorable plugging or sealing effects will lead to air closure failure.
After determining the position of the inlet, the key to the success of the leak rescue is the rapid filling and stability of the plugging materials. Through innovation and improvement of the concept of dike leak-plugging, the leak rescue is changed from “single-stage plugging and air closure at the inlet” to “grade-by-grade plugging and air closure at the inlet and inside the leak”. A tandem closed space is formed in the leak. The hydrodynamic pressure is changed from the independent bearing of the portal to the gradual bearing of the plugging materials at the portal and inside the leak to effectively improve the rescue efficiency and success rate. According to the above concept, the fixing device is installed at the water inlet to carry the moving water pressure of the plugging material. The hole is equipped with SAP and other flexible plugging materials that can be filled and fixed at the water inlet by linear connection; after the leak is filled with plugging materials, the loopholes can be blocked and closed by controlling the expansion timing. It should be pointed out that grade-by-grade plugging still belongs to “inlet plugging”, instead of to the backwater side, which can avoid the elevation of the dike infiltration line and reduce the infiltration damage.

Author Contributions

Investigation, G.Y.; writing—original draft preparation, G.Y.; writing—review and editing, C.L. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by National key R&D plan, grant number 2022YFC3004403, major science and technology projects of the Ministry of Water Resources in 2022, grant number SKS-2022026, and special projects for basic scientific research business expenses of YRIHR, grant number HKY-JBYW-2020-19.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.


This research was supported by major science and technology projects of the Ministry of Water Resources in 2022.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Surface flow field of the Heigangkou downstream extension project.
Figure 1. Surface flow field of the Heigangkou downstream extension project.
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Figure 2. The plugging process of a dike leak.
Figure 2. The plugging process of a dike leak.
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Figure 3. A duckweed dam leak-plugging device.
Figure 3. A duckweed dam leak-plugging device.
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Yu, G.; Li, C. Research Progress of Dike Leak Rescue Technology. Water 2023, 15, 903.

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Yu G, Li C. Research Progress of Dike Leak Rescue Technology. Water. 2023; 15(5):903.

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Yu, Guoqing, and Chenchen Li. 2023. "Research Progress of Dike Leak Rescue Technology" Water 15, no. 5: 903.

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