Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dam Failure of a Coal Slurry Impoundment

Written by Chris Goodell, P.E., D. WRE | WEST Consultants
Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved.

I was recently asked my opinion on a good way to model the following dam breach event:
I …recently completed three consulting projects where I simulated the breach of three proposed coal slurry impoundments.  The permitting agency required a RAS model of an “instantaneous” hypothetical breach (over full depth, almost 80 ft for one of the impoundments).  I was able to achieve a stable model with brief breach formation time and satisfy the permitting agency.  The client (a coal company) considered the results to be unrealistic due to the rapid failure time and the fact that much of the impoundment is very viscous slurry; they have asked me to revisit the problem.  They asked me to model a partial breach of the top 10 ft, which they estimate is the distance from the top of slurry to the top of impoundment and occupied by water for the failure scenario, followed by the viscous slurry.  I was wondering if HEC-RAS could model such a complex situation.  I was thinking it might be modeled using the sediment transport capabilities within RAS.  I do have properties of the slurry, including particle size distribution, etc.  I suspect a more complex model is needed, but wanted to get your opinion, since I frequent your blog and have seen many complex issues addressed with RAS.
Thanks to Jason Hill, Ph.D., P.E. for sending in this interesting problem.  I don’t know if it is ultimately the best solution, but one that I think may work is as follows:
to model the breach of a partial water, partial slurry impoundment, you’re going to have to get creative.  First of all, RAS technically cannot model highly viscous fluids, like mud or slurry flows.  Really your only option for a “RAS-Only” model is to bump up Manning’s n values to account for the highly viscous flow.  Without a means of calibrating these high n values, you really are just guessing when you increase them. 
Here’s my suggestion:  Not sure if this would work, but what I would explore is the use of a combination of HEC-RAS, NWS BREACH, and FLO2D.  First, assume the first “pulse” of flow (water flow) will be separate and distinguishable from the second pulse (slurry flow).  The initial (water) part of the breach and the first pulse can be modeled and mapped using HEC-RAS exclusively.  For the second pulse of flow, I would model the remainder of the breach using NWS BREACH.  This model will simulate the breaching process and will generate a breach outflow hydrograph for you.  An advantage of NWS BREACH over RAS is that it provides an input for sediment concentration of the breach flow.  Once BREACH has provided you with a breach outflow hydrograph, use that as the inflow to a FLO2D model.  I say FLO2D only because I’m familiar with it and it can model highly concentrated mudflows.  But any model that you can find that models mudflows will work in this case. 
In summary, you’ll end up with two hydrographs to route downstream and to map independently:  the water hydrograph, and the slurry hydrograph.  The “water” breach will be modeled, and the water hydrograph will be routed using HEC-RAS.  The “slurry” breach will be modeled with NWS-BREACH, and the slurry hydrograph will be routed using FLO-2D (or other model capable of simulating mudflow).”
Although I know a little bit about NWS BREACH and FLO2D, I freely admit I haven’t tried this before. I think it can be made to work but I can also foresee a few hurdles.  Namely, what happens when/if the slurry flow and the water flow ultimately mix together somewhere downstream?  How do you map that condition?    If any of you out there have other suggestions, please feel free to comment to this post.  


  1. Dear Chris

    I would like to Download the HEC RAS 4.1 but link is not working. Also, is there any tutorial available for the Dam break modelling for HEC RAS. Thanks.


  2. Dear Chris

    I am not able to download the HEC-RAS, the site is not working anymore. Also, is there any tutorial available for the dam breach modelling.


  3. I just downloaded it without problem. Perhaps your location prevents you from downloading from a US Gov't website (some countries are not allowed, i.e. Iran).

    The HEC-RAS manuals have brief write-ups on dam breach modeling, and you can find some information on this blog. Otherwise, I don't know of any tutorials.

  4. I have just downloaded the hecras 4.1. I can not open the Hecras mapper when I click the icon I get the message:
    run-time error 2146234105 (80131107)
    the format of the file 'rasmapperlib' is invalid

    Can anyone advise on what to do to make it work?

  5. Hi Chris Goodell. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I would like to ask if there was any modification in the HEC RAS to allow to model a viscous slurry since the publication of your answer?

    I was asked the same question of the post, if it is possible to model the breach of a coal slurry impoundment and until now, I have only found this possible using openFOAM.

    1. Not as of the latest version. We can still only simulate water (not viscous slurries).

  6. Hi Chris,

    You presented a course on HEC-RAS 2D modelling earlier this year (March, at the University of Pretoria) and I would like to ask for more information regarding performing a dam break analysis on a concrete arch dam. I've realised most information is on earth dams. We have been tasked, as students, to perform three dam break analysis. I have read that overtopping is unlikely to cause a concrete arch dam to fail so in HEC-RAS that leaves us with failure due to piping. How would one analyse failure due to erosion of the foundation/abutment, abutment sliding or seepage? Also is it correct to use a 2D mesh for the reservoir as well as the flow of water downstream while the dam is a '2D Area Connection' and the inlet and outlet 'SA/2D Area BC Lines', therefore I wouldn't have to use a mix of 1D and 2D?


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