Teton Trouble

Steve's picture

In the 1960s, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drew plans for Teton River Dam in eastern Idaho. Like most of their type, Teton River intended to be of multi-value to nearby inhabitants in the forms of irrigation, flood control, hydro-power and recreation. The earth-fill barrier, 93 meters high and 520 meters across fitted out in May, 1976.

Sadly, celebration was brief. Echoing the route of many dam breaks, Teton Trouble began soon after first filling.  On the morning of June 5, a small leak appeared in the downstream face about ½ way up the structure. In spite of a brave attempt to run a bulldozer down the slope to plug the flow, piping increased and gushing water relentlessly ate its way to the dam crest. By noon, the entire north side of the dam had opened, freeing 320,000,000 cubic meters of water behind.

I’ve made this computer simulation of the events. The simulation breaks new ground in that it allows for erosion, transport, and deposition of material along with fluid flow. The concept is simple: if water flows faster than a critical velocity, solid material below it excavates; if water flows slower, suspended material in transit deposits. The rate of excavation or deposition is proportional to the difference between the actual velocity and the critical one.   

This computational twist is cool because it allows for self-breaching. Start off with a little nick in the dam face. Water passes the gap and some material is carried off. With each passing second, the nick grows -- slowly at first, then everything goes gangbusters in complete failure --  non-linearity at work.

Anyway, take a look at the video and see what you think. 

Although the Teton Dam Flood resulted in 400 million dollars of damage claims against the Government, things could have ended much worse. Due to efficient warning that morning, the disaster claimed only 14 casualties. Bears repeating that if you live downstream from one of these things, keep an ear to the radio, lest someday you have Trouble Too.

Next time: The worst dam disaster in history.

Steven N. Ward   Santa Cruz.


cletus cleve's picture

The Teton Dam Flood did make a lot of damage to different culture and cities around it, I have to get to the www.bestessays.com.au to learn more about the amazing and entertaining fact of life, Thanks for a brilliant article it was worth sharing and reading Steve.

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