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Unless it is properly drained, the phreatic (or groundwater) surface can extend all the way through a dam and seep out the bottom of the downstream slope, or toe. Since the earth below this surface is saturated under hydraulic pressure, any structural weakness could cause a leak. A breach failure could quickly follow. The author explains how a tensiometer/piezometer sensor set installed in a dam, could provide signatures for failure events from some future catalog of engineered dam failures.
Date of Publication: June 2003