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Impacts of Levee Breach and Dam Failure


Dams and levees are constructed throughout the world for water supply, irrigation, navigation, flood protection, electrical power, and water-based recreation.These hydraulic structures are of great benefit to the society; however, inundation caused by dam failure and levee breach has disastrous consequence. The failure of a large dam has the potential to cause more death and destruction than the failure of any other man-made structure.Large flood waves resulting from these failures commonly cause loss of life, human suffering, and destruction of properties and ecosystems for hundreds of miles in the inundated valley. Depending on the terrain, the flood waves can lead to extensive scour and erosion, and large-scale movement of sediment and debris. Potential failure of tailing dams can cause significant damage to the environment by quick dispersion of hazardous materials and contaminants including heavy metals. A typical example of dam failure is the 1976 Teton dam break in Southern Idaho which caused a loss of 13 lives and economic damage of approximately one billion dollars even though the downstream area had limited development and was sparsely populated. Not only this, the flood wave generated from this dam failure triggered over 200 landslides, thus significantly changing the morphology of the downstream canyon. Flood waves resulting from a levee breach can be less dramatic than that originating from a dam failure. Nevertheless, the damage from a levee breach can be extensive if the breach occurs near an urban area. A case in point is the recent flooding in the City of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. The damage caused by the levee breaches to the city and its populace far exceeded the immediate destruction from the landfall of the hurricane.












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Swearingen Engineering Annex Center | 300 Main St., Columbia, SC 29208 | TELE: 803.777.8318 | FAX: 803.777.1727 | pire@cec.sc.edu