HOW TO CONSTRUCT SUBSURFACE DAMS OF SOIL

C Copyright Erik Nissen-Petersen. asalconsultants@yahoo.com

INTRODUCTION
Subsurface dams built of soil in dry riverbeds (sand rivers) are the most reliable and lo -cost ater source in !rid and Semi-arid "ands (!S!"). #any subsurface dams have been constructed successfully of soil near $odoma in %an&ania since '('). #ore recently* training on subsurface dams built of soil took place in $odoma* #akueni and %urkana in +enya and in the $ry ,one of -urma by the author. Subsurface dams prevent flood ater* hich has saturated the voids bet een the sand particles in riverbeds* from being drained do nstream by gravity thereby drying up riverbeds. Subsurface dams should* preferably* be constructed on underground dykes situated under the sand* because that ill provide free storage volume for ater. Subsurface dams can be constructed in riverbeds having no underground dykes* although such ater reservoirs are likely to have smaller storage volumes. .ater is e/tracted from subsurface dams by either a hand-dug ell ith a hydrodynamic ell-head sunk in the riverbed itself* or by an intake pipe gravitating ater to a ell-shaft sunk in a riverbank. Subsurface dams let flood ater pass ithout reducing the flo to people living do nstream. %hese subsurface dams do not re0uire maintenance. %hey cannot be eroded or silted up and hardly any ater is lost to evaporation.

Subsurface dams are so easy to build of soil that farmers can construct such dams themselves after a short training course.

1ig. '. 1lood ater trapped in the sand upstream of an underground dyke.

1ig. ). ! subsurface dam constructed on an underground dyke increases the volume of ater trapped in the sand.

1ig. 2. ! subsurface dam can also trap flood ater in riverbeds having no underground dykes.

1ig. 3. ! hand-dug ell ith a hydrodynamic ell-head in a riverbed for e/tracting ater from a subsurface dam.

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)) Subsurface dams should not be located here aste from slaughter houses* villages and cattle dips* contaminates the riverbeds.. 4. ''. Percentage of e/tractable ater. . 9. 1ig. 4) 5nderground dykes are best located a couple of months after flooding by6 a) %here is al ays an underground dyke do nstream of a aterhole because dykes trap ater upstream. $o ing rods can be used by gifted persons. . Probing rods made of iron bars can also sho dyke and e/traction point. $ry vegetation indicates an underground dyke* hile tall green trees sho here ater can be dra n.aterholes provide ater due to an underground dyke being do nstream. c) %he presence of a dyke is confirmed by either digging trial pits* or7and 8 d) 8 probing ith an iron rod hammered into the sand* or7and 8 e) 8 do sing ith t o rods made from a bra&ing rod. '<. ) . %he highest yield of ater can therefore be dra n from riverbeds ith coarse sand. 1ig. 1ig. :. 1ig. 1ig. 3) -oulders and fractured rocks should not be situated in the reservoirs because they cause leakage. b) $ry and lo vegetation on a riverbank ith tall green trees. 1ig.SlTE CRITERIA ') Coarse sand can store more ater in its voids than fine-grained sand. %rial pits can be dug in riverbeds to confirm dyke and e/traction point. ! boulder creating leakage. 1ig. (. 2) %he reservoir of subsurface dams should not contain salty soil or rocks because that ill make the ater salty.

Soil samples being analysed. '2. %he sample ith the slo est infiltration rate is the most suitable soil for building a dam all because it has the least porosity. 2 .DESI N CRITERIA 1ig. ') Subsurface dams must keyed into the floor under the full length of the dam all and into the banks to prevent seepage. %he porosity of soil can be found by observing* say '< cm depth of ater seeping through )< cm depth of various soil samples taken at a dam site. %he trench is filled up ith moisten layers of the least porous soil found at the dam site. %he soil samples are saturated ith ater* then topped up ith ater. '). %he key is made by e/cavating a trench 9< cm ide and 9< cm deep into firm soil or murram under the dam all. 2) %he sides of a dam all should slope 34 degrees out ard from the crest. 3) %he upstream side of a dam all should be coated ith a 4 cm thick layer of clay or co dung for ater-proofing. =o ever* if it takes less than 9< minutes for '< cm depth of ater to seep through )< cm depth of soil* then the crest should be made 4 cm ider for every one minute less the 9< minutes. %he soil samples are filled into transparent plastic bottles turned upside do n ith their caps and bottoms removed. Standard design of a subsurface dam built of soil. )) %he minimum idth of the crest (top) of a dam all is '<< cm. 1ig.

MAINTENANCE %here is no maintenance re0uired for a subsurface dam built of soil. :) 5pon completion of the dam all* sand is back-filled against both sides so that the top of the all is e0ual ith the level of sand in the riverbed. '3. 3) %he dam all is build of the least porous soil found on the site.CONSTRUCTION ') %he sand overlaying an underground dyke is removed in a stretch being ) metres ider than the base of the dam. %he dam all is completed and sand has been back-filled against it. )) %he idth of the base is e/cavated to a depth of )< cm into the clay or murram being the floor of the riverbed. 2) ! key* 9< cm ide and 9< cm deep or more* is e/cavated into firm soil along the middle of the dam all and to the top of both ends of the dam all. 1ig. %he key e/tends into the t o river banks. 9) %he upstream side of the dam all is ater-proofed by compacting a 4 cm layer of clay or co -dung mi/ed ith soil onto the dam all. ! key* 9< cm ide* has been e/cavated 9< cm into firm soil under the middle of a dam all. . ':. 1ig.hen the riverbed has been flooded and the subsurface dam has proved to hold ater* a hand-dug ell can be sunk into the riverbed or one of the banks. %he soil is moisten and compacted into the key and dam all in layers of about )< cm thickness until the top of the dam all. 4) %he sides of the dam all are cut to 34 degrees slope and smoothen. %he key and dam all have been built up the level of sand in layers of compacted soil ith the least porosity. '9. >nly the hand-dug ell* or a river-intake being the e/traction point might need attention after floods 3 1ig. %he base of the dam all has been e/cavated to a depth of )< cm into firm soil. .) . 1ig. . Sand has been removed in a ide stretch over a dyke. '4.