Key Steps for Conducting Tailings Dam Breach Studies

Author: AJ Strauss, V Martin, D Fontaine, J Cathcart
Conference: 84th Annual Meeting of International Commission on Large Dams
Date: May 15-20, 2016

Engineering practitioners currently use a combination of guidance documents, published papers, and professional experience to support tailings dam breach and inundation studies. There is considerable knowledge and information available in this relatively new field of practice, but standardised and comprehensive guidelines specific to tailings dams are not available. Practitioners face several key challenges: (a) the more established and mature guidance is typically focused on water storage dams; (b) the available literature may only address specific aspects of dam breach assessment and inundation modelling; (c) the available literature sometimes relies on historical data that may not be
consistent with the proposed application; and (d) the results are highly sensitive to the selected modelling inputs. This paper reflects on the currently available literature on tailings dam breach and inundation studies, compares how the major components for these studies are approached, and discusses how the resulting conclusions may vary. The key aspects of tailings dam breach and inundation assessment that are considered include: initial conditions and  hydrology; boundary conditions; breach parameters; tailings mobility and discharged volume; and flood routing and inundation mapping.


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