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Case Study

Embankment Failures during the Historic October 2015

Flood in South Carolina: Case Study
Ali Asghari Tabrizi, S.M.ASCE 1; Lindsey Ann LaRocque, A.M.ASCE 2; M. Hanif Chaudhry, Dist.M.ASCE 3;
Enrica Viparelli, M.ASCE 4; and Jasim Imran, M.ASCE 5

Abstract: The collection of time-sensitive data on real-life embankment failures and their analysis are essential steps to model breach
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processes and the consequential flood, which are of great importance for preparing emergency action plans. In this paper, data on 14 earthen
embankments that failed or were damaged in the Midlands of South Carolina resulting from the historic 1,000-year storm during
October 2015 are presented and analyzed. The investigation includes measurement of breach dimensions, collection of undisturbed soil
samples, soil classification, embankment erodibility tests using the submerged jet erosion test (JET) method, calculation of peak discharge,
estimation of maximum height of overtopping, and calculation of maximum reservoir volume behind each embankment at the time of failure.
Using this information and results, single-variable and multivariable parametric breach models for the breach depth and breach width are
developed and compared with selected breach models available in the literature. All the models except for one estimate the breach width
satisfactorily, with the proposed single-variable equation giving a relatively better prediction. The collected data set of this study may be used
by others for model verification. DOI: 10.1061/(ASCE)HY.1943-7900.0001315. 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers.
Author keywords: Overtopping; Embankment breach; Empirical model; Erodibility; Dam failure.

Introduction 50 cm precipitation in a 24-h period) and extensive flooding in

South Carolina in early October of 2015. During the storm
Embankments and levees are primarily constructed to protect from more than 40 earthen structures breached, all located in the
50- or 100-year design floods, and dams are often used to supply Midlands area.
water for municipal purposes, irrigation, power generation, and re- A better understanding of the embankment failure process and
creation purposes. A majority of the dams and levees are composed the dominant parameters affecting the failure are necessary for pre-
of natural erodible materials and may fail under extreme conditions dicting and modeling the breach process. These predictions are vital
(ASCE/EWRI Task Committee on Dam/Levee Breaching 2011) for emergency preparedness, risk management, and design and im-
due to different mechanisms such as overtopping, seepage, internal plementation of protection measures. Laboratory investigations of
erosion and piping, and slope instability or a combination thereof. embankment breach can be subject to scale effects, so case studies
The ASCE/EWRI Task Committee on Dam/Levee Breaching (2011) of real-life embankment failures are extremely important to under-
reports that overtopping is the most common cause of embankment stand the mechanics of different failure processes and to improve
failure. breach model formulations and predictions. Despite the numerous
Dam and levee breaches may result in fatalities, extensive embankment breaches that have been documented in the last
economic losses, and social stresses. Most recently, Hurricane century, in-depth assessments as well as detailed data collection
Joaquin caused excessive rainfall (some areas with more than of these failures are limited for a variety of reasons, including
the lack of proper documentation and delay in data collection
because of safety issues and limited number of observations (Wahl
Senior Staff Engineer, Schnabel Engineering, 11A Oak Branch Dr., et al. 2008).
Greensboro, NC 27407; formerly, Graduate Research Assistant, Dept. of Morris et al. (2009) provided an overview of the state of the art
Civil and Environmental Engineering, Univ. of South Carolina, 300 for the earthen embankment failure process. An updated review of
Main St., Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail: ali.a.tabrizi@gmail.com
2 earthen embankment breaching was prepared by the ASCE/EWRI
Assistant Research Professor, Dept. of Civil and Environmental
Engineering, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail:
Task Committee on Dam/Levee Breaching (2011). The ASCE/
larocqul@gmail.com EWRI review included an overview of laboratory and field experi-
Mr. and Mrs. Irwin B. Kahn Professor and Associate Dean of the ments as well as real-world case studies. According to the ASCE/
International Program and Continuing Education, Dept. of Civil and EWRI review, only very few real-life embankment failures have
Environmental Engineering, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 been well documented, e.g., the Teton Dam breach of 1976 (Ponce
(corresponding author). E-mail: chaudhry@sc.edu 1982) and the Lawn Lake Dam breach of 1982 (Jarrett and Costa
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 1986). Several researchers have used available historic data sets of
Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail: viparell@cec.sc dam failures along with regression analysis to develop parametric
.edu breach models to characterize the breach evolution and failure
Professor, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Univ. of
(e.g., average breach width, peak breach outflow, time of failure)
South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208. E-mail: imran@sc.edu
Note. This manuscript was submitted on June 6, 2016; approved on as a function of the embankment characteristics (e.g., embankment
January 6, 2017; published online on March 29, 2017. Discussion period material erodibility, reservoir volume, height of water behind the
open until August 29, 2017; separate discussions must be submitted for dam). Wahl (1998) and ASCE/EWRI Task Committee on Dam/
individual papers. This paper is part of the Journal of Hydraulic Engi- Levee Breaching (2011) summarized a number of these empirical
neering, ASCE, ISSN 0733-9429. breach models in their reviews. The models relevant to the present

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Table 1. Summary of Selected Parametric Breach Models (Modified from ASCE/EWRI Task Committee on Dam/Levee Breaching 2011, ASCE)
Reference Proposed equation
USBR (1988) Bavg 3hw , tf 0.11Bavg
Von Thun and Gillette (Guidance on Breach Parameters, internal memorandum, Bavg 2.5hw Cb , tf Bavg =4hw 61 highly erodible
Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Denver, 1990)
Froehlich (1995) Bavg 0.1803K 0 V0.32 D0.19 , tf 0.00254V 0.53 D0.9
Note: Bavg = average breach width (m); Cb = factor varying as a function of reservoir volume; D = breach depth (m); hw = height of water above
breach invert at failure (m); K 0 1.4 for overtopping and 1.0 for piping; tf = failure time (h); V = volume of water stored above breach invert at
failure (m3 ).
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Fig. 1. (Color) Study area including digital elevation model of South Carolina and selected watersheds in Lexington and Richland Counties, location
of the visited dams, watershed boundaries, and hydrography

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study (USBR 1988; J. L. Von Thun and D. R. Gillette, Guidance Storm Event and Study Area
on Breach Parameters, internal memorandum, Bureau of Recla-
mation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Denver, 1990; Froehlich The extensive rainfall from Hurricane Joaquin in 2015 resulted in a
1995) are listed in Table 1. The earliest review of dam-break total rainfall accumulation of more than 50 cm in most parts of the
incidents was presented by Babb and Mermel (1968) with a re- Midlands of South Carolina from October 25. This amount of pre-
view of more than 600 cases, but their review lacked the detailed cipitation was remarkably higher than the 1,000-year rainfall event
information about the breach process. According to Wahl (1998), with a 48-h total of 35.81 cm of precipitation (Bonnin et al. 2006)
the first group of predictive breach models based on the well- and thereby resulted in more than 40 failures of regulated embank-
documented historic dam-break studies was developed mostly ments across the state with most of them located in Richland
during the 1980s (e.g., SCS 1981; Hagen 1982; Singh and County. Flooding led to significant damage to properties and infra-
Snorrason 1984; MacDonald and Langridge-Monopolis 1984; structure (e.g., dams, roads, and bridges). The dam-breach floods
Costa 1985; Evans 1986; USBR 1988; J. L. Von Thun and intensified the damages and led to 19 fatalities.
D. R. Gillette, Guidance on Breach Parameters, internal memo- Fig. 1 shows the study area as well as embankment locations for
which data are reported herein. Three dams in Lexington County
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randum, Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior,

Denver, 1990). and 11 dams in Richland County are investigated in this study
Several parameters affect the earthen embankment breach pro- (Table 2). Cascading dam failure was likely one of the most sig-
nificant causes of failure for some of these dams, especially in
cess, but only a few studies have been carried out to develop
Lexington County. However, cascading failure is not considered in
multivariable breach equations (J. L. Von Thun and D. R. Gillette,
the analyses because of the lack of available data.
Guidance on Breach Parameters, internal memorandum, Bureau
The majority of the investigated dams were located within the
of Reclamation, U.S. Department of the Interior, Denver, 1990;
Gills Creek watershed (Richland County) with a population of
Froehlich 1995; Xu and Zhang 2009; Pierce et al. 2010). Moreover,
more than 140,000 people and approximately 113 km of streams,
the vast majority of the predictive breach models do not account
more than 190 km2 of land, and more than 100 ponds and lakes
for the embankment erodibility parameters, which significantly
with total area of 4 km2 (Gills Creek Watershed Association 2015).
affect the breach characteristics, particularly in the case of embank-
Of the 14 studied dams, nine failed completely. A failed dam is
ments containing cohesive materials. In addition, most of the em-
considered to no longer have retention properties and the reservoir
pirical breach models in the literature consider the breach depth as has reverted to a stream. The sequence of failures was as follows:
an independent variable, whereas it should be treated as a depen- on October 4, 2015, Cary Lake Dam and Semmes Lake Dam failed
dent parameter (ASCE/EWRI Task Committee on Dam/Levee in Richland County and Barr Lake Dam failed in Lexington
Breaching 2011). County; on October 5, 2015, Upper Rocky Ford Dam and Lower
The purpose of the present study is to perform an in-depth Rocky Ford Dam failed in Richland County and Gibson Pond Dam
characterization of some of the earthen embankment failures that and Old Mill Pond Dam failed in Lexington County; on October 6,
occurred during the October 2015 flood in the Midlands of South 2016, Lake Elizabeth Dam and Ulmer Pond Dam failed in Richland
Carolina. The main goal is to collect and analyze time-sensitive County. Figs. 2(aj) show the images of earthen embankment
data on the earthen embankment failures immediately following breaches at Barr Lake Dam, Cary Lake Dam, Lake Elizabeth Dam,
the flood. Fourteen failed or damaged small dams were visited Gibson Pond Dam, Old Mill Pond Dam, Ulmer Pond Dam, Beaver
and the investigations include breach geometry assessment, undis- Dam, Lowe Rocky Ford Dam, Spring Lake Dame, and Upper
turbed soil sampling, soil classification, embankment erodibility Rocky Ford Dam, respectively. All of the studied dams were over-
assessment, hydrologic analysis to calculate the peak discharge topped during the flood.
of the watershed for each dam due to rainfall, and estimation of
the maximum depth of overtopping and the reservoir volume.
Regression analysis was used to develop parametric models to pre- Hydrologic Analysis
dict breach characteristics (e.g., average breach width and average
breach depth), and the developed equations were then compared A hydrologic analysis for the watersheds affecting individual dam
with models available in the literature. sites is done to estimate the impact of the historic rainfall at the

Table 2. Information for the Studied Dams

Hazard Complete Site Sieve In situ Jet erosion
Site County classification failure Watershed visit analysis sample test
Beaver Dam Richland Significant No Gills Creek X X X X
Lake Elizabeth Dam Richland High Yes Upper Crane Creek X X X X
Upper Rocky Ford Dam Richland High Yes Gills Creek X X X X
Lower Rocky Ford Dam Richland High Yes Gills Creek X X X X
Spring Lake Dam Richland Significant No Gills Creek X X X
Cary Lake Dam Richland High Yes Gills Creek X X X X
Ulmer Pond Dam Richland High Yes Mill Creek X X X X
Lake Katherine Dam Richland High No Gills Creek X X
Forest Lake Dam Richland High No Gills Creek X X X X
Arcadia Woods Dam Richland High No Gills Creek X X
Semmes Lake Dam Richland High Yes Upper Gills Creek X X
Barr Lake Dam Lexington Significant Yes Upper Twelvemile Creek X X X X
Gibson Pond Dam Lexington Significant Yes Upper Twelvemile Creek X X X X
Old Mill Dam Lexington High Yes Lower Twelvemile Creek X X X X

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Fig. 2. (Color) Dam breach at (images by authors) (a) Barr Lake Dam; (b) Cary Lake Dam; (c) Lake Elizabeth Dam; (d) Gibson Pond Dam; (e) Old
Mill Pond Dam; (f) Ulmer Pond Dam; (g) Beaver Dam; (h) Lower Rocky Ford Dam; (i) Spring Lake Dam; (j) Upper Rocky Ford Dam

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Fig. 3. (Color) Digital elevation, land use, and soil map (designated by the hydrologic soil groups, with A and D indicating the lowest and highest
runoff potential, respectively) for the watershed for Cary Lake Dam

dam sites. Table 2 lists the field and laboratory investigations done and Atmospheric Administration (2015) during October 34, 2015,
for the visited embankments, along with their hazard classification is 22.2 cm (8.74 in.).
according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Envi- The TR-55 (SCS 1986) graphical peak discharge method is used
ronmental Control (SCDHEC). The watershed within which each to calculate the peak discharge for each dam. The input require-
dam is located is also reported in this table. Further calculation is ments for this method are the time of concentration (tc ), the drain-
necessary in order to delineate the subwatersheds. The watershed age area (A), type of rainfall distribution (Type II), 24-h rainfall
delineation for each dam location is performed utilizing the state- depth (P), curve number (CN), and the percentage of pond or
wide 7.5-min hypsography digital elevation map (DEM) and the swamp areas (Fp ) (Akan and Houghtalen 2003). With this infor-
hydrology tools in ArcGIS. Land-use data, such as open water, mation, the peak discharge, Qp , resulting from a storm event is cal-
deciduous forest, or grassland, are obtained from the National Land culated as
Cover Database (Homer et al. 2015) and the soil type map is ob-
tained from Natural Resources Conservation Service (2011), where Qp Qu AQFp 3
the hydrologic group (A, B, C, and D) is specified. The DEM, land
use, and soil map for the Cary Lake Dam are shown in Fig. 3. The unit peak discharge, Qu , is obtained from the figure for
The weighted curve number is calculated for each dam. the SCS graphical peak discharge for Type II distribution rainfall
Richland and Lexington Counties are located within the Soil Con- (Akan and Houghtalen 2003), utilizing the time of concentration
servation Service (SCS) Type II region. The SCS runoff curve num- and the I a =P ratio. The pond percentage factor, Fp , is deter-
ber method (SCS 1986) is used to calculate for runoff, Q, in inches mined from the table for the adjustment factor for ponds and
swampy areas that are spread throughout the watershed (Akan and
P I a 2 Houghtalen 2003). The peak discharge Qp is then calculated for
Q 1 each dam.
P Ia S
The peak discharge calculations for the watershed for each dam
where are shown in Table 3. The highest estimated peak discharge is in
Lexington County at the Old Mill Pond Dam. Within Richland
I a 0.2S County, the highest predicted peak discharge for this study is at the
Lake Katherine Dam, the dam furthest downstream within the Gills
S 1,000=CN 10 2 Creek Watershed. Along the Gills Creek Watershed, USGS Gauge
02169570 is located just downstream of the Lake Katherine Dam.
and P = rainfall in inches during a 24-h period; I a = initial loss in During the October 2015 flood, the gauge, shown in Fig. 4 (USGS
centimeters; S = maximum retention in centimeters; and CN = 2012), was inoperative between October 4 at 3 a.m. and October 5
curve number. The value for P measured by the National Oceanic at 11 a.m. because the flow was higher than the maximum flow rate

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Table 3. Calculated Peak Discharges and Related Watershed Parameters Using the SCS Runoff Curve Number Method
Name A (km2 ) CN I a (cm) S (cm) R (cm) Fp Fi (%) tc (h) Qu (m3 =s=km2 =cm) Qp (m3 =s)
Beaver Dam 0.17 64 7.01 14.05 7.87 0.87 10.8 0.61 1.72 2.05
Lake Elizabeth Dam 5.46 67 6.35 12.70 8.81 0.8 9 3.56 0.65 24.88
Upper Rocky Ford Dam 2.69 70 5.51 11.02 10.03 0.87 11 3.26 0.65 15.18
Lower Rocky Ford Dam 5.72 70 5.56 11.10 9.98 0.87 10.4 3.28 0.65 32.10
Spring Lake 4.97 71 5.08 10.16 10.72 0.73 7.96 3.26 0.65 25.12
Cary Lake Dam 4.86 71 5.11 10.19 10.71 0.735 7.8 2.95 0.73 28.01
Ulmer Pond Dam 0.67 69 5.64 11.28 9.83 0.735 6.6 0.75 1.72 8.34
Lake Katherine Dam 13.72 73 4.80 9.58 11.23 0.79 8.6 4.76 0.60 73.31
Forest Lake Dam 11.33 71 5.23 10.44 10.51 0.78 9.35 3.97 0.60 55.95
Arcadia Woods Dam 4.42 71 5.21 10.41 10.54 0.73 7.79 0.50 2.15 73.19
Semmes Lake Dam 0.22 82 2.87 5.72 14.92 0.98 7.19 0.04 4.30 13.78
Barr Lake Dam 7.34 69 5.66 11.35 9.80 0.8 8.24 0.56 1.72 99.05
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Gibson Pond Dam 7.80 69 5.66 11.35 9.80 0.75 8.14 0.57 1.72 98.62
Old Mill Dam 8.39 69 5.66 11.35 9.80 0.81 9.19 0.57 1.72 114.65
Note: A = drainage area; CN = curve number; Fi = impervious area fraction; Fp = pond and swamp adjustment factor; I a = initial loss; Qp = peak discharge;
Qu = unit peak discharge; R = runoff; S = maximum retention; tc = time of concentration.

Fig. 4. (Color) USGS streamflow gauge at Gills Creek Watershed (image courtesy of USGS)

of 56.63 m3 s1 (2,000 ft3 =s). The peak discharge, Qp , based on dam and at several points within the same embankment by using a
hydrologic calculation for the Lake Katherine Dam, is found to laser distance measurement device (Bosch, Stuttgart, Germany
be 73.31 m3 s1 (2,589 ft3 =s). ArcMap is used to measure the res- GLM40 with an accuracy of 1.5 mm) and the values were then
ervoir area behind each dam at the normal water surface elevation averaged. Multiple soil samples, some of which were undisturbed
and the results are shown in Table 4. samples obtained by using a drive tube with weighted hammer,
were collected from each site for geotechnical investigations in
the laboratory, such as soil classification, erodibility, and dry unit
Field and Laboratory Investigations weight measurements. The maximum head of water above breach
invert, hw , is estimated for each dam (Table 4) from both the high
Fourteen selected dams were visited during October to November water marks observed at the field and also from the report of
2015 immediately following the flood and before any construction Devereaux (2016).
and/or modification was performed. The original embankment The particle size distribution of the embankment material of
characteristics, i.e., dam height (NID 2013), crest width, upstream each dam for the sediment coarser than 0.075 mm was determined
and downstream slopes, and maximum height of crest overtopping, from standard sieve analysis. The grain size distribution of the
are presented in Table 5. Breach geometry, i.e., breach bottom material finer than 0.075 mm was measured with the Beckman
width, breach top width, and breach depth, was measured for each (Brea, California) Coulter counter MS4, which uses impedance

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Table 4. Measured and Estimated Breach Characteristics
Area of Top breach Bottom breach Breach (eroded) Maximum head above
Site lake (m2 ) (eroded) width (m) width (m) depth (m) breach invert (m)
Beaver Dam 144,526.5 6.7 2.17
Lake Elizabeth Dam 162,161.7 29.5 24.5 4.5 5.5
Upper Rocky Ford Dam 132,954.4 24.6 20 5.3 5.35
Lower Rocky Ford Dam 102,856.2 20.4 15.4 4.6 4.65
Spring Lake 192,311.8 21.4 3.16
Cary Lake Dam 326,152.0 41.8 21.2 7.14 8.34
Ulmer Pond Dam 90,204.1 40.25 37.45 6.5 7.5
Lake Katherine Dam 711,663.9 30.25 1.23
Forest Lake Dam 630,959.9 27.45 0.77
Arcadia Woods Dam 27,699.9 18.25 0.69
Semmes Lake Dam 145,834.4 42 30.42 6.71 8.21
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Barr Lake Dam 248,685.5 24.26 19.8 5.23 5.73

Gibson Pond Dam 102,131.0 21.16 17.8 3.4 3.9
Old Mill Dam 144,495.4 31.6 25 7.1 8.1
Note: For the dams that did not fail, i.e., Beaver Dam, Spring Lake Dam, Lake Katherine Dam, Forest Lake Dam, and Arcadia Woods Dam, dimensions of the
eroded section are presented instead of the breach dimension.

Table 5. Dam Characteristics

Dam Crest Upstream Downstream Maximum depth of
Name heighta (m) width (m) slope (degrees) slope (degrees) crest overtopping (m)
Beaver Dam 7.3 7.9 27 27 0.15
Lake Elizabeth Dam 3.2 11 27 14 1
Upper Rocky Ford Dam 6.1 9.1 27 27 0.05
Lower Rocky Ford Dam 6.1 9.1 27 27 0.05
Spring Lake 5.5 10.7 27 14 1.2
Cary Lake Dam 6.1 8.8 27 13 1.2
Ulmer Pond Dam 5.2 11 27 27 1
Lake Katherine Dam 4.3 6.1 27 27 1.2
Forest Lake Dam 7.0 4.6 27 27 1
Arcadia Woods Dam 6.4 9.1 27 27 0.3
Semmes Lake Dam 8.2 1.5
Barr Lake Dam 4.3 4 35 35 0.5
Gibson Pond Dam 4.6 6.6 14 18 0.5
Old Mill Dam 6.1 3.4 31 40 1
Note: Semmes Lake Dam is not accessible.
Dam heights from National Inventory of Dams (2013).

measurement technique. A submerged jet erosion test (JET) appa- breach invert at failure, hw = maximum head of water above the
ratus built in house was used to measure the erodibility of the un- breach invert, and g = gravitational acceleration, as
disturbed soil samples. The JET apparatus, operational procedures,
and data analyses are similar to those described by Hanson and Bavg fkd ; V; hw ; d ; g 5
Cook (2004). The test determines the erodibility coefficient, kd ,
and critical shear stress needed to initiate erosion, c , of a linear
detachment erosion model Using dimensional analysis, Eq. (5) is reduced to the following
nondimensional form:
kd ed c 4
Bavg =hw kd d ghw ; V=h3w 6
where = rate of erosion; and ed = applied shear stress.
The variation of scour depth with time is monitored during the
JET method and the erodibility coefficient, kd , and the critical shear The observations from the studied embankment dams are then
stress, c , are then determined using curve-fitting techniques on the used to determine the functional form of the fitted relation
observed time series of the scour depth. for Eq. (6).

Dimensional Analysis Results

The average breach width, Bavg , may be considered as a function of The field and laboratory investigation results and failure time es-
the embankment soil properties, i.e., erodibility coefficient (kd ) and timations are presented in this section. Furthermore, the proposed
dry density of the soil (d ), and also the hydraulic loads acting on breach models are presented and compared with models available
the embankment, i.e., V = maximum reservoir volume above the in the literature.

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USBR (1988) downstream slope is observed close to the downstream edge of
Von Thun and Gillette (1990) the embankment crest (i.e., headcut advancement of approximately
1.00 Froehlich (1995)
22.09 m from the downstream toe of the dam).
Figs. 7(a and b) show the grading curves of the dam materials
Failure time (h)

obtained by the mechanical sieving and Coulter counter test.

0.60 Embankment soil type is also determined using the Unified Soil
Classification System (ASTM 2011) (Table 6). All of the studied
0.40 embankments contain a high proportion of sand, thereby making
them more susceptible to erosion. The median size of all of the
0.20 embankment material, D50 , is larger than 0.18 mm.
Results of the JET method for the embankment erodibility
0.00 measurements are presented in Table 7. Fig. 8(a) shows the time
Lake Upper Lower Cary Ulmers Barr Gibson Old Mill Semmes
Elizabeth Rocky Rocky Lake Pond Lake Pond Dam Lake
history of scour depth from the JET method. The variations of
the erodibility coefficient with critical shear stress are shown in
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Dam Ford Ford Dam Dam Dam Dam Dam

Dam Dam
Fig. 8(b) for the selected embankments along with their erodibility
Fig. 5. (Color) Embankment failure time predictions using the selected classifications (Hanson and Simon 2001). A range of erodibility,
empirical models from resistant to very erodible, is observed for the studied embank-
ments. Between kd and c , the erodibility coefficient, kd , is con-
sidered to be the dominant parameter that controls the erosion
process because the critical shear stress is often small compared to
Estimated Failure Time the applied shear stress during breaching.
Failure time is calculated for the studied dams using the selected Fig. 9 shows the variation of the erodibility coefficient, kd , with
empirical equations (Table 1) and the computed results are shown the percentage of the fine grain size portion (silt and clay) of the
in Fig. 5. The maximum reservoir storage above the breach invert, embankment material. The erodibility of the soil decreases with an
V, which is required to calculate the failure time from the relation of increasing percentage of finer particles because the presence of silt
Froehlich (1995), is computed for each dam by multiplying the and clay is the dominant contributing factor to the cohesion of the
measured reservoir area by the estimated maximum head of water soil. Based on the erodibility coefficient, kd , Upper Rocky Ford
above the breach invert. Although they utilize different input Dam, Beaver Dam, and Cary Lake Dam have the highest erodibil-
ity, while Ulmer Pond Dam, Old Mill Dam, and Lower Rocky Ford
parameters, the estimated failure times are almost the same using
have the lowest erodibility among the selected dams. However, no
both the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) (1988) and Von Thun
correlation or very poor correlation is observed between the breach
and Gillette relations, while the predictions from Froehlich (1995)
are significantly longer.

Embankment Breach Dimensions, Soil Classification, 90
and Erodibility 80
Beaver Dam
Lake Elizabeth
The measured breach parameters, i.e., breach depth, breach top 70 Upper Rocky Ford
Percent Finer (%)

Spring Lake
width, and breach bottom width, are presented in Table 4. Fig. 6 60 Cary Lake
shows a definition sketch of these parameters. The majority of the 50 Lake Katherine
breached dams studied here were low dams with the original height Forest Lake
of the dam less than 10 m. For dams that did not fail, the dimen-
sions of the eroded section of the embankment are presented
instead of the breach dimensions. No significant deposition was 20

noticed in the vicinity of the dams. The bed erosion in the embank- 10
ments can be estimated by comparing the original dam height with 0
0.001 0.01 0.1 1 10
the measured breach depth. For Spring Lake Dam, which did not
proceed to failure, maximum advancement of the headcut on the (a) Sieve Size (mm)

Lower Rocky Ford
80 Arcadia Lake
70 Ulmer Pond
Percent Finer (%)

Top breach width

Barr Lake
60 Semmes Lake
50 Gibson Pond
Old Mill Pond
Head above 40
Breach breach invert
Bottom breach width 0.001 0.01 0.1 1 10
(b) Sieve Size (mm)

Fig. 6. (Color) Breach profile with breach parameters Fig. 7. Grain size distribution of the material of studied embankments

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Table 6. Soil Classification of Dam Material
Site D10 (mm) D30 (mm) D50 (mm) D60 (mm) Cu Cc Type Sand (%) Silt and clay (%)
Beaver Dam 0.04 0.31 0.5 0.6 15.00 4.00 SM 84.3 10.5
Lake Elizabeth Dam 0.0072 0.15 0.18 0.23 31.94 13.59 SC 70.9 24.0
Upper Rocky Ford 0.28 0.5 0.88 1 3.57 0.89 SP 92.0 1.9
Lower Rocky Ford 0.0076 0.12 0.2 0.28 36.84 6.77 SC-SM 81.8 18.0
Spring Lake Dam 0.1 0.23 0.31 0.4 4.00 1.32 SP-SC 76.8 21.9
Cary Lake 0.15 0.22 0.3 0.39 2.60 0.83 SP-SM 90.6 8.4
Ulmer Pond Dam 0.008 0.12 0.18 0.22 27.50 8.18 SC-SM 83.3 15.0
Lake Katherine 0.009 0.12 0.18 0.23 25.56 6.96 SC 91.2 6.5
Forest Lake Dam 0.01 0.17 0.23 0.3 30.00 9.63 SC-SM 80.2 19.4
Arcadia Woods 0.01 0.16 0.3 0.4 40.00 6.40 SC-SM 85.5 13.5
Semmes Lake Dam 0.01 0.18 0.3 0.425 42.50 7.62 SC-SM 85.2 11.6
Barr Lake Dam 0.02 0.2 0.35 0.5 25.00 4.00 SC-SM 72.9 14.0
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Gibson Pond Dam 0.1 0.4 0.7 1 10.00 1.60 SW 79.7 6.4
Old Mill Pond Dam 0.01 0.19 0.5 0.72 72.00 5.01 SC-SM 74.5 16.5
Note: Cc = coefficient of curvature, Cc D30 2 =D10 D60 ; Cu = coefficient of uniformity, Cu D60 =D10 ; Dx = grain size such that x% of the sediment is
finer; SC = clayey sand; SM = silty sand; SP = poorly graded sand; SW = well-graded sand.

Table 7. Embankment Erodibility Measurements Using the JET Method

Dry unit weight Water content Equilibrium scour Critical stress Detachment rate
Site d (kg=m3 ) W (%) depth J e (m) c (Pa) coefficient kd (cm3 =N s)
Beaver Dam 1,850.243 7.69 0.30 2.24 3.51
Cary Lake 1,566.19 24.53 0.22 5.09 1.14
Upper Rocky Ford 1,853.15 14.09 0.21 5.43 8.25
Gibson Pond 1,190.34 33.82 0.33 2.34 0.87
Old Mill Pond 1,509.44 19.61 0.25 4.18 0.16
Lake Elizabeth 1,656.02 13.55 0.20 6.07 0.58
Lower Rocky Ford 1,628.01 15.17 0.09 31.57 0.16
Ulmer Pond 1,765.76 12.20 0.10 27.77 0.09
Barr Lake 1,570.36 17.78 0.18 7.63 0.20
Forest Lake 1,685.33 8.91 0.07 48.70 0.35

dimensions, i.e., breach depth and breach width, and the erodibility proposed to estimate the breach dimensions, i.e., average breach
of the embankment material, i.e., kd . Moreover, no correlation is depth, Davg , and average breach width, Bavg
observed between the breach dimensions and the embankment
compaction, i.e., d . Several possible reasons for this exist Davg 0.54B0.71
avg 7
1. A high amount of sand in the embankment material, which
makes the studied dams less cohesive and may cause a poor Davg 0.87hw 8
applicability of the detachment relation [Eq. (4)] to model the
erodibility of those embankments.
2. Various embankment slopes and embankment vegetation cover. Bavg 5.59h0.85
w 9
From observations, some of the embankments had steeper side
slopes than the others. In addition, the embankments were cov- Multivariate regression analysis of the field and laboratory data
ered with different vegetation types, e.g., bare soil, mature trees, leads to the following form of Eq. (6) with R2 of 0.88
shrubs, or grass.
3. Different flood magnitudes. The embankments had various Bavg p V 0.012
0.57 2.11kd d ghw 0.001 3 p
drainage areas, amount of impervious area, and amounts of hw hw kd d ghw
precipitation. 0.415 V p
4. Different initial integrity of the embankment prior to the flood.   2.53 106 3 kd d ghw 10
V hw
Some of the embankments were poorly maintained as compared 3 hw
to others. Also, the spillway pipes were corroded and damaged
in some cases, e.g., Beaver Dam. Fig. 11 shows the predicted breach width using the proposed
5. Different spillway capacities for the embankments and different relations [Eqs. (9) and (10)] versus the observed data. Also plotted
spillway designs. in Fig. 11 are predictions by several selected breach models devel-
oped by others. Except for the relation by USBR (1988) that under-
estimates the breach width, most of the predicted results of other
Predictive Breach Models
relations fall within the 30% deviation bounds. The best agreement
Using the regression analysis of the observed embankment breach between the observations and predictions is observed when us-
characteristics [Figs. 10(ac)], the following breach models are ing Eq. (9).

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J. Hydraul. Eng., -1--1

0.14 12

Average breach depth (m)

Beaver dam
0.12 Cary Lake
Upper Rocky Ford 8
y = 0.54x0.71
Depth of scouring (m)

0.1 Gibson Pond R = 0.60

Old Mill Pond
0.08 Lake Elizabeth 4
Lower Rocky Ford
Ulmer Pond 2
Barr Lake 0
Forest Lake 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45
(a) Average breach width (m)
0.02 12

Average breach depth (m)

0 10
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000
8 y = 0.87x
(a) Time (s) R = 0.92
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Beaver dam 4
Very Erodible
Cary Lake
Upper Rocky Ford 2
Gibson Pond
Old Mill Pond
Erodible 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1.00 Lake Elizabeth
Kd (cm3/N-s)

Lower Rocky Ford Maximum estimated water height above breach invert(m)
Ulmer Pond
Barr Lake 45

Average breach width (m)

Forest Lake 40
35 y = 5.59x0.85
30 R = 0.75
Moderately Resistant 25
Resistant 15
Very Resistant
0.01 10
1.0 10.0 100.0 1000.0 5
(b) c (Pa) 0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
(c) Maximum estimated water height above breach invert(m)
Fig. 8. (Color) Embankment erodibility measurements using JET
method: (a) time variation of scouring depth; (b) variations of erod-
Fig. 10. (Color) Observed breach parameters: (a) breach depth versus
ibility coefficient with critical shear stress (erodibility classifications
breach width; (b) breach depth versus maximum height of water;
adopted from Hanson and Simon 2001)
(c) breach width versus maximum height of water



Predicted breach width (m)

Kd (cm3/N-s)



y = 17.745x-1.543 25
R = 0.7296
20 Proposed relation (Eq. 9)
Proposed relation (Eq. 10)
USBR (1988)
Von Thun and Gillette (1990)
0.010 Froehlich (1995)
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 5 Agreement Line
%Silt and Clay Bounds of 30% deviation
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50
Fig. 9. (Color) Variation of erodibility coefficient with the percentage
Observed average breach width (m)
of fine grain size (silt and clay)
Fig. 11. (Color) Predicted and observed breach width using proposed
relations [Eqs. (9) and (10)] and some of the available models
Summary and Conclusions

Fourteen earthen embankments that failed or were damaged during

the historic October 2015 flood in the Midlands of South Carolina maximum height of overtopping, and calculation of the maximum
are studied using field observations, laboratory tests, and hydro- reservoir volume. Nondimensional relations are developed to pre-
logic modeling. The field work includes breach geometry measure- dict the breach width by using dimensional and regression analyses.
ments and undisturbed soil sampling. The laboratory analysis The proposed relations on breach depth and width are compared
consists of soil erodibility measurements using the submerged with selected breach models available in the literature.
JET method and soil type assessment. The hydrologic modeling No correlation is observed between breach dimensions and
includes the calculation of the peak discharge, estimation of the erodibility coefficient (kd ) or breach dimensions and embankment

ASCE 05017001-10 J. Hydraul. Eng.

J. Hydraul. Eng., -1--1

dry density (d ). However, the maximum overtopping depth is Fi = impervious area fraction (%);
found to be a dominant parameter affecting the breach width and Fp = pond and swamp adjustment factor;
the breach depth in this study. Furthermore, a multivariable equa- g= gravitational acceleration (ms2 );
tion [Eq. (10)] is proposed to predict the breach width that takes hw = maximum head of water above breach invert (m);
into consideration several parameters that affect the breach process.
Ia = Initial loss (cm);
The breach width predictions from the proposed equations in
Je = equilibrium depth of scouring (m);
this study (both single-variable and multivariable) and also the
Froehlich (1995) and Von Thun and Gillette relations are satisfac- K0 = 1.4 for overtopping and 1.0 for piping;
tory, while the relation of USBR (1988) mostly underestimates the kd = erodibility coefficient (cm3 N1 s1 );
breach width. Although the proposed multivariable relationship Q= runoff (in.);
[Eq. (10)] results in satisfactory predictions and considers different Qp = peak discharge (m3 s1 )
soil and hydraulic components, the proposed single-variable equa- Qu = unit peak discharge (m3 s1 km2 cm1 );
tion [Eq. (9)] or the Von Thun and Gillette or Froehlich (1995) R= runoff (cm);
equations may be preferred because these relations need fewer S= maximum retention (cm);
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input parameters. tc = time of concentration (h);

The time-sensitive data presented here, i.e., the breach dimen- tf = failure time (h);
sions and the laboratory measurements, provide other researchers V= maximum reservoir storage (m3 );
with a data set of real-life, small earthen embankment failures that
w= soil water content (%);
may be used to develop and validate numerical models of dam
= erosion rate (ms1 );
breach. The data may be downloaded from the Partnerships for
International Research and Education (2017). d = dry density of the soil (kgm3 );
The proposed parametric breach relations may be used to predict c = critical shear stress (Pa); and
breach properties from accidental and planned earthen embank- ed = applied shear stress (Pa).
ment failures and to mitigate flood hazards, prepare emergency ac-
tion plans for catastrophic flooding, reduce losses, save lives, and
mitigate adverse environmental impacts. However, it should be References
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