Theme 2 - Geotechnics

Reservoir safety research advisory group (ReSRAG)

Research Theme: Geotechnics

ReSRAG Theme Lead: Elizabeth Bowman; Support: Alan Brown, Kevin Briggs


Relevant ICOLD committees and UK representatives

Committee A: Computational Aspects of Analysis and Design of Dams – Loizos Pelecanos

Committee E: Embankment Dams – Rod Bridle / Alan Brown

Committee H: Dam Safety – Andy Hughes

Committee L: Tailings Dams and Waste Lagoons – Rafael Monroy

Committee LE: Levees – Jonathan Simm

EWG Levees and flood defences - Adrian Rushworth

EWG Internal erosion of dams, dikes and levees and their foundations – Rod Bridle

EWG Overflowing and overtopping erosion – Mark Morris

Key UK guidance documents
  • Investigating embankment dams: a guide to the identification and repair of defects. Charles J A, Tedd P, Hughes A K and Lovenbury H T (1996). BRE Report BR 303, 81pp.
  • An engineering guide to the safety of embankment dams in the United Kingdom. Johnston T A, Millmore J P, Charles J A and Tedd P (1999). Second edition. BRE Report BR 363, 102pp.
  • Small embankment reservoirs. Kennard M F, Hoskins C G and Fletcher M (1996). CIRIA Report 161, 445pp.
  • Grouting for reservoir dams - a guide to good practice (C774). Hughes A K, Bruggemann D A, Kettle C (2018). Report C774. CIRIA London, 326pp.
  • Design, operation and adaptation of reservoirs for flood storage – Environment Agency (2016). Report SC120001
  • Application of Eurocode 7 to the design of flood embankments (C749). Pickles A. et al (2014). Report C749. CIRIA London, 63pp.
  • The hydraulic transport and storage of extractive waste: guidelines to European practice. Cambridge, M. (ed). Springer. 2018. 327pp.
  • International Levee Handbook Report (C731). CIRIA/Ministry of Ecology/USACE (2013). Report C731. CIRIA London, 1348pp.
UK papers Refer to the BDS bibliography for all reservoir-related technical papers
Key ICOLD bulletins

B181 - Tailings Dam Design - Technology Update (pre-print)

B179 – Asphalt Concrete Cores for Embankment Dams (pre-print)

B164 - Internal Erosion of Existing Dams, Levees, and Dikes, and Their Foundations

B153 - Sustainable Design and Post‐closure Performance of Tailings Dams

B151 - Tropical Residual Soils as Dam Foundation and Fill Material

B150 - Cutoffs for Dams

B141 - Concrete face Rockfill Dams ‐ Concepts for Design and Construction

B139 - Improving Tailings Dam Safety ‐ Critical Aspects of Management, Design, Operation and Closure

B134 - Weak Rocks and Shales in Dams 

B133 - Embankment Dams on Permafrost 

B129 - Dam Foundations: Geologic Considerations, Investigation Methods, Treatment, Monitoring 

B121 - Tailings Dams: Risk of Dangerous Occurrences ‐ Lessons Learnt from Practical Experiences

B114 - Embankment dams with bituminous concrete facing 

B106 - A guide to Tailings Dams and impoundments ‐ Design, construction, use and rehabilitation 

B104 - Monitoring of Tailings Dams ‐ Review and Recommendations

B103 - Tailings Dams and Environment ‐ Review and Recommendations

B101 - Tailings Dams. Transport. Placement. Decantation ‐ Review and recommendations 

B098 – Tailings Dams and seismicity – Review and recommendations

B097 - Tailings Dams ‐ Design of drainage

B095 - Embankment dams ‐ Granular filters and drains

B092 - Rock materials for rockfill dams ‐ Review and recommendations

B089 - Reinforced rockfill and reinforced fill for dams ‐ State of the art

B088 - Rock foundations for dams

B084 - Bituminous cores for fill dams ‐ State of the art

B077 - Dispersive soils in embankment dams ‐ Review

B074 - Tailings dams safety ‐ Guidelines

B070 - Rockfill dams with concrete facing ‐ State of the art

B069 - Moraine as embankment and foundation material ‐ State of the art

B056 - Quality control for fill dams

B055 - Geotextiles as filters and transitions in fill dams

B054 - Soil‐cement for embankment dams

B053 - Static analysis of embankment dams

B045 - Manual on tailings dams and dumps

B042 - Bituminous cores for earth and rockfill Dams (replaced by B106)

B039 - Upstream facing interface with foundations and abutments (supplement to Bulletin 32a)

B038 - Use of thin membranes on fill dams

B032 - Bituminous concrete facings for earth and rockfill dams

Relevant BDS evening meetings 

BDS Webinar Session 2 – Legislation Updates and Flood Detention Reservoirs (2020)

Comparing Levees with Dams – Finding Common Interest (2019)

The Brumadinho Tailings Dam Failure (2019)

Grouting in dams - Best practice guidance (2018)

The Construction of Ulu Tutong Dam (2018)

Banja Dam and Devoll Hydropower Scheme, Albania (2017)

Genale Dawa 3 Hydroelectric Project, Ethiopia (2017)

Flood Storage Reservoirs - 40yrs of Lessons Learned (2015)

The International Levee Handbook (2015)

Use of the ICOLD Bulletin on Internal Erosion in Existing Dams (2014)

Wimbleball Dam grouting works (2013)

Banbury Flood Storage Reservoir (2012)

Raising Abberton Reservoir (2012)

Internal erosion at existing dams: An outline of the new ICOLD Bulletin (2011)

Karinuker Dam - Engineer & Contractor Views (2010)

Geology & Dams (2010)

Current UK research

EPSRC funded project between Imperial College London and University of Sheffield (2017-2020) on "Particle scale investigation of seepage induced geotechnical instability" – is focused on understanding micro-macro triggering and progression of internal erosion within susceptible soils under seepage.


Additional PhD research on internal erosion is being carried out at the following universities:  Glasgow, Sheffield, Imperial College, Cambridge, Loughborough.


EA funded research on transitions / interfaces between earthen flood embankments (levees) and hard structures – developing screening tools, reliability analysis tools and incorporation into system risk analysis, together with inspection and retrofit design guidance.

Recent and current international research

European funded Interreg project Polder2Cs (2020-2022): Levee / flood defence living lab (collaboration between Netherlands, Belgium, UK, France)

The International Society for Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering (ISSMGE) has in 2020 set up a new Technical Committee TC221 on Tailings and Mine Waste. 

Chair: Ramon Verdugo: 

Vice-Chair: Rafael Monroy:

Secretary: Fernando Schnaid:

UK representative: Neil Smith: 

Internal erosion research is currently being conducted at a number of universities and institutes worldwide: Examples - Delft University, Deltares, University of British Columbia, USBR, University of Aix-Marseilles, University of Nantes, Tokyo Institute of Technology, University of Melbourne, University of Wollongong, University of Sydney.

Key international publications and guides

For additional references, refer to ICOLD bulletins


  • Manual on small earth dams. FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper No. 64. US Bureau of Reclamation:
  • Guidelines on tailings dams. Planning, design, construction, operation and closure (2012). ANCOLD.
  • Technical Bulletin: Application of dam safety guidelines to mining dams (2014). Canadian Dam Association.