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.