You are on page 1of 9


Designing earth structures involves a process of successive approximation requiring several

trials. The starting data available to the soils engineer are normally the height of the structure
(depth of water plus the safety freeboard), the foundation conditions, available construction
materials and occasionally the minimum crest width, if movement of some equipment on the
crest is required. The problem is to design a dike cross section which will produce a safe and
sufficiently watertight structure, and which will result in a project of minimum cost. The first
step consists of finding the steepest slope inclinations which will ensure stability over the service
life of the structure, so that the embankment will be the cheapest to construct. The resulting base
width must then be checked for underseepage and for the danger of piping failure. The
foundations of structures must also be checked for settlement behaviour. In cases where
cohesive, impervious materials are available in limited quantities only, the dike design providing
the water tightness required must also be found.
The depth of water is given by the technological designer, the safety freeboard by the hydrologist
and the designer of the spillway. Freeboard may also be governed by the wave action to which
the dike is likely to be exposed. The wave height is found by taking the direction and force of the
prevailing wind, the fetch length and the depth of water into consideration.
There are a number of formulae in use for estimating wave height. The following two are in the
metric system:

is the wave height in metres
W is the wind speed in m/sec
B is the pond width in the wind direction (fetch length) in km
H is the water depth in metres
For comparison, a formula used in British units is:

is the wave height in feet
W is the wind speed in mph
B is the pond width in the wind direction (fetch length) in miles
The results of exploration and the soil properties determined by laboratory tests afford guidance
to the soils engineer in design. It should, however, be emphasized that earth structures are
already exposed to atmospheric influences in the course of construction, and also later during
their whole service life. They must never be considered as static, but as dynamic structures,
taking into account the changes in conditions and character of the factors to which they are
exposed. This kind of philosophy will alone lead to a technically and economically sound
solution, in which allowance can be made for the mutual interactions between the subsoil, the
earth structure and the atmosphere. It should be remembered, moreover, that the number and
variability of the various factors involved prevents us from predicting and estimating all
possibilities and influences in advance.
Thus, in analysing the slopes for their stability, the shear strength determined by laboratory tests
is used. Great care must, however, be exercised in choosing the design value. Reliable mean
values can only be adopted if the soil and subsoil is uniform and, therefore, stability analysis will
yield useful results in these cases alone. If this is not the case, then the results of the stability
analyses should be accepted as rather rough estimates only. An evaluation of local experience
gained with similar structures and a critical examination of the particular pedological and
geological conditions are indispensable under such circumstances.
Another important consideration is that the low dikes and dams normally involved in aquaculture
projects do not warrant expensive tests in a soils laboratory. It should be realized that design
values of soil strength are costly to determine and yield information which must be accepted with
circumspection by the engineer who must use sound engineering judgement in their application.
For the foregoing reasons practical guidelines have been applied in Hungary for dimensioning
dikes, levees and dams lower than 3.0 m in height and retaining less than 3 million m
of water.
The dikes are classified into homogeneous (a) and zoned (b) cross sections, the latter including
those with an impervious core, with or without an impervious upstream blanket (Figure 3). The
individual structural elements (zones) of the embankment are classified again as narrow or wide,
depending also on the material used as shown in Table 1.
The degree of compaction required for the various structural elements of the dike is indicated in
Table 2.
Low earth structures designed and constructed according to these guidelines have proven
satisfactory in Hungary.
In connection with these guidelines it should be noted, however, that no cohesive soils classified
according to the critical void ratio as Group C must be used as construction material for the
dikes. The soils belonging by the same criterion to Group B can be used as impervious core
material, if the core is protected on both upstream and downstream sides by shells (Figure 3)
belonging to the size category wide of Table 1 and constructed of sand.
Under arid climates, where dry spells of extended duration are liable to occur, no material
classified as Groups B and C by the critical void ratio must be used for dikes of uniform cross
section. Soils belonging to Group B may be used for the core, but must be protected by shells of
coarse to medium sand. A transition layer at least 0.5 m wide should be provided of sand, if
gravelly sand or gravel is used for the shells.
Slopes built with the inclinations and of the materials shown in Table 1 and observing the
foregoing limitations will normally be stable. The most important single factor causing
deterioration is erosion on the upstream side by wave action, and on the downstream side by
heavy rains. The slopes must be protected against these contingencies. A sound grass cover will
offer adequate protection on the downstream side and the crest against rain erosion and normally
even on the upstream side above the line of wave run up. Grass cover should be established as an
organic part of the construction work, as soon as the slopes are finished to grade. The kind of
grass to be seeded and the method of seeding will vary from region to region and the advice of
an agronomist should be sought on this matter.
Over sections exposed to wave attack, the slope must usually be protected. Reed belts of about 4
m width will attenuate waves effectively and should be planted on berms with a horizontal, or
mildly sloping surface. Where reed belts are unacceptable, or where reed refuses to grow, other
means of slope protection should be envisaged. The material commonly used for such protection
is riprap, which may be dumped in a thickness of 0.5 m, or hand placed, where labour is cheap,
in a thickness of 0.25-0.30 m. Fifty percent of the stone by weight should be of a size about equal
to the thickness of the riprap, the remaining half should be graded uniformly down to the largest
diameter of the underlying filter bed.
Other alternatives of slope protection that may be considered where rock is unavailable are
blocks of concrete, ceramic blocks, continuous concrete mattress, or lime stabilization, but
brushwork mattresses have also been used on minor projects. These latter, however, require
frequent maintenance and must be replaced at rather short intervals of time.
The soils classified as unsuited can be improved in their properties by lime treatment, which
results in greatly reduced swelling and shrinking and makes the soils much easier to compact.
The soils stabilized by such treatment will also offer higher resistance to erosive action. There is
ample literature available on the theory and methods of lime treatment, the economic desirability
of which depends on local conditions and must be evaluated separately for each particular

Figure 3. Types of dikes
The dike cross section determined in the foregoing manner must next be checked for
underseepage and piping failure. Whereas underseepage is merely a problem of water loss from
the pond, piping must be prevented since it presents a serious danger to the stability of the
structure. Piping occurs when the force exerted by seeping water on the soil exceeds the resistive
force offered by the soil. The potential energy represented as the differential head created by the
dike is dissipated as frictional loss as the water flows past the soil particles. The seepage force S
acting on the soil is the product of the unit weight of water g
and the hydraulic gradient i. The
latter is found when the differential head is divided by the distance between the points of seepage
entry and emergence. When upward flow exists in a cohesionless soil and the head loss per unit
length of the flow path exceeds the submerged effective weight of the material, movement of the
soil particles will take place. For example, if the weight of a cubic metre of saturated
cohesionless soil is equal to 2 000 kg, the submerged weight will be 1 000 kg. Hence, if there is
an upward hydraulic gradient of 1, the seepage force will be equal to 1 000 kg and the material
will be in a condition of unstable equilibrium, termed a 'quick' condition.
Whenever water flows from a less pervious material to a more pervious one, or out onto the
ground surface, the possibility of migration of fines, or piping should be considered. Even a very
minor washing away of fines at the downstream side of the dike is serious. As soon as some fines
are washed away, the resistance to erosion along the path of seepage is reduced and this results in
an increase of flow. Owing to the increased flow, the rate of washing away is further increased,
and so forth, until failure occurs.
To analyse the subsoil of the dikes for potential piping and to estimate the factor of safety
relative to piping failure, two cases of interest in designing fish pond dikes will be considered
(Figure 4).
1. Case of a single pervious layer under the dike base
No detailed analysis of piping failure is necessary, if the condition

is satisfied.
B is the base width of the dike, in metres,
H is the differential head, also in metres and
is the 'inherent failure gradient' of the soil material forming the layer, and has the following
gravel to coarse sand i
fine sand to silt i
= 0.6
cohesive soil i
= 0.85
The limit failure gradient is found as

a is the irregularity index of the soil material, given in terms of the uniformity coefficient U =

U a
5 0.2
5 -15 0.5
>15 0.8
Figure 4. Cross sections of dikes

The limit failure gradient must be smaller than the effective gradient I
= H/B and the factor of
safety is I

2. Case of dike built on a single cohesive top layer
The subsoil may be considered impervious, so that no analysis of piping failure is necessary, if
the thickness of the cohesive layer under the dike is

and on a sample taken from 1 m depth the liquid limit w
>45%, the index of plasticity I
= 15%
and the critical void ratio e
> 3.
If the layer is thinner than 3 m, then it may burst under the gradient
, that is > 0.85, which is the inherent failure gradient of the cohesive top layer.
Piping failure will occur, if the material of the pervious sublayer is eroded after the cohesive top
cover has burst, thus if

It should be noted that to account for a concentration of flow lines in the vicinity of the break in
the top layer, where the seepage flow emerges, a factor of 3 has been introduced. In the
foregoing formula the inherent failure gradient of the pervious sublayer must be introduced. The
factor of safety is again I
In order to prevent piping, movement of soil particles under the action of seepage forces must be
prevented. Where the soil subject to possible piping is exposed at the downstream side of the
dike, piping can be prevented either by reducing the seepage gradient at the exit point so that the
seepage force is too small to cause movement of particles, or by stabilizing the soil at the exit
area mechanically.
Mechanical stabilization consists of covering the exit area with a filter blanket of coarser
material, so graded that the pores of the coarser material are small enough to prevent the larger
particles of the finer soil from passing through. The two layers must obey Terzaghi's filter rule
which is to be found in all handbooks on soil mechanics.
Further methods of piping control consist of the construction of drainage trenches and relief
wells, or of extending the path of seepage by an upstream blanket. These methods are, however,
normally too expensive to be justified in fish-pond projects. On the other hand, the possibilities
and alternatives of controlling underseepage and thus seepage losses from the pond must be
The problem of underseepage and the desirability of control measures should be examined by a
dynamic approach, i.e., by examining the potential decrease of seepage losses over time. At any
particular instant the magnitude of the seepage loss from a given pond area is given by the
product of permeability and the hydraulic gradient, obtained as the ratio of the water head to the
thickness of the soil layer above the ground-water table. However, in this product both the
permeability coefficient and the position of the groundwater table may be variable with time.
The permeability coefficient can be expected to decrease with time, as the sediment particles
carried in suspension by the entering flow are washed into the pervious bottom layer and fill in
the voids of the latter. This process, known as clogging, or 'colmatation' in French papers
depends thus on the relative granulometries of the pervious layer and the silt, and on the
sediment content of the feeding water. The mineralogical composition of the sediment (the
presence of clay minerals) is also an important factor. Both laboratory experiments and field
experience indicate that the permeability coefficient of a 10 cm thick surface layer may decrease
by as much as two orders of magnitude within 10 to 14 days, and practically complete sealing
may develop within six months. The rate of clogging will become faster if the granulometry of
the sediment is comparable to the fine fraction of the pervious top layer, and for perfect sealing
to develop the presence of clay particles is essential.
Where the flow feeding the ponds carries no sediment in suspension, such as a supply from a
reservoir, the process may be induced artificially. For this purpose a thin (2-3 cm thick) layer of
fine, non-cohesive material, such as fine sand, is spread underwater. This can be done from a
barge evenly on the pond bottom proceeding from the edges toward the centre. The largest size
of this material should equal 0.6 to 0.75 times the effective diameter of the bottom material. The
seepage loss should be observed by readings on a staff gauge during this treatment. The first, or
at the most the second such treatment should already produce a marked decrease in the seepage
losses. As the final step of treatment a clay (bentonite) slurry should be spread by similar
methods on the bottom. The concentration of the slurry depends on the activity of the bentonite
available. Thus if the bentonite displays a viscosity of 26 centipoise in a 6 percent suspension (60
g of bentonite suspended in 1 000 ml of water), an application rate of 2-3 litres of slurry per
square metre of bottom area should suffice for complete sealing. The application rate should be
increased if the bentonite is less active.
As pointed out in the foregoing, repeated cycles of desiccation and rewetting are most liable to
cause adverse changes in the soil structure. The sealing just described should be maintained in a
wet condition, therefore, and the pond should not be kept empty for extended periods of time,
especially in the dry season.
Seepage losses from the feeder canal can also be controlled by this method, but to prevent the
bentonite slurry from being washed away, it is usually necessary to impound the canal by reaches
for a few days during which the slurry is placed and allowed to penetrate into the soil pores.
During construction work on the dikes and canals, soil mechanics supervision is necessary to
check whether the soils envisaged are used for the various parts of the dikes, whether these are
placed at the moisture content specified and whether they are compacted to the density specified.
The soils from the borrow areas previously explored are classified visually to identify them with
those tested at the laboratory.
The moisture content of the borrow material can be determined by burning if a major departure
from the average is observed.
The conventional method of determining the density and moisture of the material placed and
compacted in the dike consists of taking core samples, which are then taken to the laboratory for
moisture determination by oven drying.
Where the dike material is moved and placed mechanically, even moderate-capacity equipment
will produce fast progress, so that the point of sampling will usually become buried by the time
that the result becomes available, leaving the soils engineer with no possibility of any remedial
measure. To remedy this, devices have been developed by which the moist unit weight and the
volumetric moisture content of the soil can be found instantly, on the spot, indicating whether the
density attained is acceptable, or not. The unit weight of the compacted layer up to about 30 cm
thickness is found by a gamma probe, based on the attenuation of the intensity of gamma
radiation by the soil between the source and the detector. Moisture is determined by detecting the
slow neutrons reaching the detector through the soil layer from the source of fast neutrons.
Devices such as these available on the market have proven reliable and effective.