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Lack of Understanding

Often the lack of understanding of the geology, as well as water patterns, leads to disastrous consequences. In fact, it is not a secret that many dams have failed in the result of the lack of understanding of the geology or water volume. In such a situation, the ignorance of engineers and all those who are responsible for the building and exploitation of dams concerning the geology of the region may lead to unpredictable results. In this respect, it is worthy of mention one of the largest catastrophes known as the failure of the Teton Dam in the USA.
Analyzing this catastrophe, it should be primarily said that the Teton Dam was built on the Teton River in southeastern Idaho in the US. On June 5, 1976, the dam suffered a terrible failure that resulted in the death of 11 people and 13,000 head of cattle. The financial consequences of the catastrophe were also quite substantial. To put it more precisely, it cost about $100 million to build the dam and after the catastrophe the US federal government paid over $300 million in claims related to the dam failure.
However, the catastrophe did not occur by chance and, to a significant extent, was predetermined by the lack of understanding of potential dangers hidden in the geology of the region. Unfortunately, these potential threats and geologic peculiarities of the area were hardly taken into consideration when the dam was built.
Obviously, the creators of the dam did not fully take into consideration the geology and water volumes of the area while building the dam. It should be said that the dam itself was situated in the Eastern Snake River Plain, which was a broad tectonic depression on to of rhyolitic ash-flow tuff. The tuff, a late-Cenozonic volcanic rock dating to about 1,9 million years, sat on the top of sedimentary rock. The area was considered to be very permeable, but no seepage was noted on the dam itself before the date of the catastrophe.
However, it is worthy of mention that on June 3, 1976 workers found two small springs had opened up downstream. In actuality, it was the first sign of the upcoming catastrophe which, nonetheless, remained practically unnoticed. At least, the catastrophe had not been prevented. At the same time, it should be said that, from the geologic point of view, the area was not sufficiently researched and, thus, the catastrophe turned to be totally unexpected basically because of the ignorance of workers and engineers about the potential geologic dangers of the site. This lack of knowledge had eventually led to the death of people and enormous financial and material losses.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the lack of knowledge and understanding of the geology and water patters can have really disastrous consequences. In this respect, it should be said that the failure of the Teton Dam discussed above was just one of the examples of such gaps in human knowledge about the geology of areas where they build constructions that can be really dangerous for safety and security of the region and which failure can cause numerous death and material losses.

1. Arthur, H.G. (1977) “Teton Dam Failure.” The Evaluation of Dam Safety: Engineering Foundation Conference Proceedings, ASCE, New York.


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