Tailings and Mine Waste Conference

The role of water management in tailings dam incidents Strachan, Clint; Goodwin, Stephen


This paper presents a review of tailings dam incidents, and examines the role water management on the causes and consequences of these incidents. The incident review includes data compiled by the US Society on Dams, International Commission on Large Dams, the United Nations Environmental Programme, and other available sources. The incident data (from 1900 through 2014) was evaluated and classified for dam characteristics, operating conditions, incident cause, and incident effects. The number and type of incidents (ranging from a minor release with subsequent repair and reuse to a dam breach and tailings release), are shown as functions of history, dam height, and incident cause. The results demonstrate that both ponded and interstitial water are contributing factors in the causes and consequences of these incidents. Elimination of future tailings dam incidents would be aided by managing ponded water in the tailings impoundment so that the probabilities for overtopping the dam, seepage and piping, and dam slope instability are reduced. In addition, transition of the tailings from a saturated deposit with a resulting high potential for flow to an unsaturated deposit with no potential for flow would reduce the likelihood of downstream consequences from a tailings dam incident.

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