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Salvajina: a concrete-faced dam

on a difficult foundation

By J. E. Hacelas and C. A. Ramirez

Principal Associate Engineer1 and Specialist Engineer2

The 148 m-high Salvajina dam is at present the second highest concrete-faced gravel-rockfill dam in the world. The dam is on
a difficult and variable foundation, which required the implementation of several corrective methods, both in the toe slab
design and in the foundation treatment. Embankment zoning permitted the economical use of soft rock from the required
excavations in combination with gravel. The dam was completed in late 1984, and upon filling for the second time in 1 986,
leakage was found to be negligible and settlement normal.

THE CAUCA RIVER Regulation Project, which includes the Salvajina Cauca, CVC, and the contractor was the consortium Dragados y
works, is in southwest Colombia, near the city of Cali. Its main Construcciones, SA, from Spain and Conciviles from Colombia.
function is to reclaim for agricultural exploitation the lowlands in Fig. 1 shows the general layout of the project.
the valley of the Cauca river, which are subject to seasonal floods
by the river in an area of 100 000 ha, extending along 394 km of Zoning of Salvajina dam
the river's course. The project aims to prevent the overflows of the Fig. 2 shows the maximum section of the Salvajina dam. It was
Cauca river and of its main tributaries for a probability of one in 30 designed in accordance with the present state-of-the-art as
years. described by J. Barry Cooke in the 18th Terzaghi Lecture, 19841.
The main structure of the Salvajina works is a concrete-faced Table I shows the characteristics of the materials. Zoning was
gravel-rock fill dam, 148 m high, which is the second highest conceived in such a way as to make best use of the available
concrete face dam currently in service in the world. The project gravels to support the concrete face uniformly, and with a
also includes a power conduit and powerplant with a total capacity minimum of deformation under water load and its own weight.
of 270 MW, a gate-controlled open channel spillway designed for The zone under the face (Zone 1) acts as a semi-pervious barrier
the routing through the reservoir of the PMF, which has a peak in the event of leakage through the concrete face, reduces excess
inflow of 3660 m3/s, and two diversion tunnels, 7.6 m in diameter, concrete because the material is easy to trim to an accurate profile,
which were used after construction as low level outlets for flood and permits the sealing of leakage by sand.
control operations. The reservoir has a total capacity of 906 hm3. Since the modulus of compressibility of natural gravels is much
The project design and construction was supervised by Ingetec, higher than that of compacted rockfill, it was decided to use gravels
the owner is the Corporacion Autonoma Regional de (Zone 2) for the upstream shell and for one quarter of the
downstream shell.
A chimney drain well back from the face (Zone 2 A) of rather

, * Ingetec SA, Apartado Aereo 5099, Bogata, Colombia.


18 Water Power & Dam Construction June 1986

Fig. 7. General layout of the Salvajina project.

clean uniform material was included within the dam fill, in horizontal permeability of 3 x 10-2 cm/s, which was considered
anticipation of lower than desirable permeability of Zone 2. acceptable. To achieve satisfactory density (2.26 t/m3) the
For the zoning of the downstream shell, it was planned for compaction coverage was increased from the standard four passes
reasons for economy to use rock provided by the spillway to six. Every effort was made to place the coarser, sounder material
excavation (Zone 4). This rockfill is almost entirely composed of near the downstream slope, where maximum shear strength rockfill
soft sandstone and siltstone. It suffered considerable degradation in is required to offset the effects of seismic shaking. Appropriate dam
the process of excavation by bulldozer, stockpiling, rehandling, and zoning enabled soft rockfill to be used that otherwise would have
so on, and turned out to be much finer than expected, with 40 to 80 been rejected as unsuitable.
per cent passing the 2.54 cm sieve, and an average of 5 per cent of Zone 5 comprises low permeability material as an additional
clay sized fines, whereas the original specification had called for a measure for seepage control through the concrete face, especially in
maximum of 30 per cent smaller than 2.54 cm. This material, the lower areas where access is difficult for any repair work.
however, was accepted for the following reasons. A chimney drain The alluvial material in the river bed is a dense deposit of
tied to an equally free-draining horizontal zone at the base of the boulders and gravels in a sandy-silty matrix. It was not removed
embankment (Zone 2A) was included in the design; therefore, from the dam foundation, except at the upstream end, where the
rockfill permeability was of concern only during construction as it bottom toe slab was to be founded on rock.
might affect the development of unwanted construction pore With regard to the colluvium and residual soils that were
pressures. It was observed in the field, during the process of covering the abutments, practically all of them were removed
spreading the soft rockfill in layers, that the beneficial effect of upstream from the dam axis. This was done by excavating ramps in
segregation that takes place in hard, clean rockfill is less marked in each abutment from the crest of the dam with an appropriate slope.
soft, finer rockfill, because the largest rock pieces tend to float in a The ramp at each abutment was tied to the 1.5H: 1.0V plane that
matrix of fines. It was therefore thought that the horizontal constitutes the toe slab foundation by another excavated transverse
permeability could be less than anticipated. A survey of successful plane. The colluvium and residual soils downstream of the dam axis
past experience of dams built with less than 100 per cent perfect were left in place, as they have little influence, if any, on the
rock, indicated that 10~3 cm/s was a reasonable lower limit to the concrete face behaviour.
permeability that could be accepted for rockfill, while still The slopes of the dam were established on the basis of precedent,
considering it to be a free draining material2-3-4-5. Several field taking into consideration its height and the characteristics of the
tests conducted in the dam rockfill after compaction indicated a materials available for construction. The upstream slope
Table 1 —Zoning of the Salvajina dam
Zone Description Maximum Thickness Compaction
size (in) of layers (ft)
1 Processed gravels (k= 4-6 1.5 Four passes of
10-3 cm/s from lab vibratory roller
tests) (10 t)
Eight passes in
sloping direction
(5 t), vibration
only in the upward
2 Unprocessed gravels 12 2 Four passes or
vibratory roller
(10 t)
2A Processed gravels 12 2 One pass of
(uniform material) vibratory roller
(10 t)
4 Soft rockfill (k=3 x 10-2 24 3 Four to six passes
cm/s from field tests) of vibratorv roller
40-80 per cent passing (10 t)
1 in sieve

Water Power & Dam Construction June 1986

was set at 1.5H: 1.0V considering that the Zone 1 material was to
be processed, well rounded gravels with a tendency to ravel before
being covered by a 4 cm-thick shotcrete (maximum size 1.9 cm)
protective layer. Because of the weak rockfill, the downstream
slope was originally established at 1.4H: 1.0V. After construction
had begun it was decided to raise the dam height 6 m, necessitating
an increase in slope to 1.3:1 in the vicinity of the left abutment.

Dam site geology

Tertiary deposits outcrop at the dam site, consisting mainly of
siltstones, sandstones, shales and conglomerates. Quartz dioritc
intrusions affect these deposits. The local structure of the area is a
monocline, the general strike of which is N10°-30°W, dipping
upstream 35°-40°SW.
The lower 65 m of the dam abutments are formed by hard quartz
sandstones and siliceous siltstones with thinly interbedded hard
The rock present at the upper 90 m of the toe slab foundation
consists mainly of a weathered and moderate to intensely fractured, Sector Elevation Type of Description of rock
interbedded siltstone and friable sandstone. In the upper part of the (m) foundation
right abutment there is a large igneous intrusion (ITO) which has
been deeply weathered to a saprolite. This saprolite (residual soil, 1 1154-1136 II-III Friable or fractured sandstone
2 1136-1121 II Fractured sandstone
MH-ML) is a reddish silty material sensitive to piping. Seams of 3 1121-1113 II-III Friable or fractured sandstone
hydrothermal alteration of varying thickness (1-15 cm) are present 4 1113-1067 II Fractured sandstone with
in the siltstone and they are also prone to piping. interbedded siltstone
In view of this geological setting it can be said that a large part
5 1067-1014 I Sandstone and siltstone
of the toe slab foundation was far from being a hard, non-erodible 1014-1062 Fresh, little fractured
rock that is groutable, and it required careful engineering to make it 6 1062-1082 II-III Fractured sandstone with
acceptable for such a high dam. interbedded altered siltstone
7 1082-1104 III Friable sandstone
8 1104-1126 II Fractured siltstone
Foundation excavation
9 1126-1138 III Residual soil from weathering
The watertight connection between the concrete face and the of diorite(ITO)
foundation is made by a concrete plinth or toe slab cast on the 10 1138-1154 II Fractured sandstone
foundation at an acceptable depth and anchored into the rock with
steel bars. on this side slope, and then to continue it over the 1.5:1 plane for
The initial limits of the excavation for the foundation of the toe the necessary distance to comply with the maximum established
slab were established to remove all the unsound rock. The hydraulic gradients. The triple-row grout curtain was also
geometry of the excavation was planned in such a way that the toe conducted from this inner corner. The toe slab was tied to the face
slab for the upper 90 m of the dam would be a continuation of the slab by a connecting slab, the thickness of which was equal to that
face slab, with a planned width ranging from 4 to 8 m. As of the face at every elevation. If the additional drainage path under
excavation progressed, it became clear that the weathering profile the connecting slabs is also taken into consideration, then the
was deeper than expected, and that its limits had to be reviewed to maximum hydraulic gradients ranged
move deeper into fresher rock. Though the quality of the rock
improved, the upper 90 m of the toe slab still could not
economically be founded on hard, groutable rock as is general
practice'. After careful geological mapping and an appraisal of this
information by the designer and consultants, the foundation rock
was classified within three general categories, as follows (see also
Fig. 3):
Type of foundation Description
I Competent rock
II Intensely fractured rock
III Intensely weathered rock.
Each type of foundation rock called for special
corrective methods as will be described next.

Treatment of the toe slab foundation

The typical arrangements of the toe slab are shown in Figs. 4 and 5.

Dimensioning of the toe slab. For the rock type I, the toe slab
was proportioned so that its width (according to precedents) was 1
/18 of the head of water; for rock types II and III, the width of the
toe slab was increased to 1/9 and 1/6 of the head of water
respectively. Since the fresher rock was found closer to the inner
corner of the 1.5:1 plane that constitutes the toe slab foundation,
and also on the side slope adjacent to this plane (Fig. 4), it was
decided to widen the toe slab by 2 m upstream

3 Water Power & Dam Construction June 1986

Filter protection. As a further protective measure against piping
into the gravel fill of the saprolite and infill clay seams in the
weathered type II rock, the entire excavated foundation surfaces
downstream of the face slab and upstream of the dam axis were
blanketed with a concrete sand filter-Zone 1 transition, designed
with the latest criteria. Figs. 4 and 5 given an illustration of the
filter-transition protection under the gravel fill.

Local excavations and backfilling. Seams of weathered, crushed

and friable rock, especially in foundation type II, were present. The
altered material was removed to a depth of 3 to 4 times the width of
the seam and backfilled either with mortar or concrete. Particular
attention was given to those features that crossed the toe-slab
foundation transversally.
In addition to the corrective methods which have been
mentioned, all the exposed slopes resulting from the excavation for
the toe slab, and upstream from it, were covered with a layer of
steel-mesh-reinforced shotcrete.

Design of the toe and face slabs

Toe slab. Figs. 4 and 5 illustrate the basic design details of the toe
slab for each type of foundation.
The toe slab was anchored to the foundation by 7 m dowels
designed to resist a nominal uplift pressure of 2 kg/cm2, arising
from foundation grouting. Steel reinforcement each way based on
the design thickness was 0.32 per cent, positioned near the top in
anticipation of tensile stresses caused by pressure grouting. Some
additional reinforcing was provided at the cutoff waterstop face as
anti-spalling steel during construction. For foundation types II and
III, the toe slab was tied to the face slab by a connecting slab
having the same thickness as the face slab and 0.4 per cent
reinforcement because of its closeness to the perimeter. Over the
weathered diorite, the thickness of the toe slab was reduced from
0.6 m to that of the face and connecting slabs, to improve
flexibility. Steel was placed at the centre since no grouting was to
be carried out, and four additional transverse cold joints with p.v.c.
between 1.3 and 6.2 for rock types III and II. waterstops were introduced to enable the slab to absorb differential
settlements and prevent cracking.
Consolidation grouting. To improve the intensely fractured rock
and to seal the open joints under the toe slab to an acceptably low Face slab design. Fig. 7 shows the face slab layout. It includes
permeability level, an intense programme of deep, low pressure (1- vertical cold joints at 15 m, giving 22 individual slabs (0.4 per cent
2 kg/cm2) consolidation grouting was carried out throughout the temperature reinforcing steel each way based on the design
entire toe slab foundation, except in the area where the saprolite thickness for the outer slabs in the tension areas close to each
was present, because of its imperviousness. Consolidation grouting abutment, and 0.35 per cent for the inner ones). Details of the face
was done in one stage through holes normal to the slab to depths slab construction are given in a paper by Hacelas and Ramirez6.
ranging between 5 and 10 m, depending on the rock quality, and The concrete design strength for both the face and toe slabs was
spaced at 4 m centres. Extra holes were drilled in different 210 kg/cm2 at 28 days. The average entrained air was
directions to intersect particular fractures, such as a steep set of
open relief joints running parallel to the valley.

Grout curtain. For type I rock, a single row grout curtain was
provided, that is, from the bottom toe slab to e 1. 1040; from there
to the dam crest a triple row was established. The outer rows
penetrated to a minimum depth of 25 m and to a maximum equal to
one-third of the water head; the central row penetrated 10 m
deeper. Grouting from the surface was carried out from galleries.
Fig. 6 illustrates the grouting layout. The primary hole spacing was
set at 10 m for the outer rows, and 5 m for the central one. The
criterion to provide additional split-spaced holes was a grout take
larger than 50 kg of cement/m of grout hole. The water/cement
ratio by volume was lower than 2:1 with the addition of 1 per cent
pre-hydrated bentonite.

Cutoff trench. To protect against a seepage blow-through at the

toe slab contact, especially with zones of altered sandstone and
siltstone, a positive cutoff trench 1 m wide and 3 m deep was
excavated, backfilled with concrete, and tied to the toe slab (Fig.
5). Where the saprolite was present, the depth of the trench was 0.6
m and it was backfilled with asphalt-impregnated sand (10-12 per
cent asphalt) to prevent cracking as a result of differential
settlements. A waterstop was set at the joint of the cutoff with the
toe slab.

Water Power & Dam Construction June 1986 4

Fig. 7. The face slab

4.1 per cent.

Joints details. Details of the perimetric and face slab vertical

joints are shown in Figs. 8 and 9. For the perimetric joint, dual
waterstops were used because the greatest joint movement occurs
there. This joint also contains a compressible wood or premoulded
asphalt filler, to allow for rotation, shear and compression during
construction without spalling the concrete. The duel waterstop was
extended to several contraction joints (outer slabs) at each
abutment which could open. No joint filler was provided in these
joints to reduce to a minimum movements of the slab in the plan of
the face. The perimetric joint and the several vertical joints
between the outer slabs also have an IG AS mastic seal at the
surface protected with a p.v.c. band. All other (inner slabs) which
are under compression have only the copper waterstop on the
The primary waterstop is copper. The p.v.c. waterstop in the
perimetric joint and in some vertical joints is a safeguard against
the possibility of a defect or rupture in the copper. To decrease the
possibility of the concrete sharp edges tearing the p.v.c. as the face
slab moves down in relation to the toe slab, either styrofoam pieces
or neoprene cylinders were used, as shown in Fig. 8. The copper
waterstop was made with a high centre rib to permit large shear
movement between the adjacent slabs. To prevent external water
pressure from squeezing the rib flat, it was filled with a solid 12 Fig. 8. Details of the perimetric joint showing (a) bottom of the canyon; and, (b)
mm-diameter neoprene insert. The copper waterstop was formed in the abutments.
continuous strips between the horizontal construction joints, to
avoid as much as possible copper field splices; it is seated on a 500
mm-wide p.v.c. band. All the p.v.c. splices were tested using a 110 the lower third of the dam, close to the upstream face and gradually
V spark tester. By placing a metal plate under the splice, the spark decreased in the downstream direction. Only half of the upstream
pinpoints any hole or crack in the p.v.c. splice. shell showed any significant movement as a result of the water
Performance of the embankment As a check of stability during the dam construction,
Salvajina dam was instrumented to monitor its performance as well measurements were made of the horizontal and vertical movements
as to provide data for the design of future concrete-faced dams. of the downstream slope. Expressed in terms of millimetres of
Figs. 2 and 10 show the arrangement of the fill, and concrete face horizontal translation per metre height of fill placed, this horizontal
instrumentation. movement gives an indication of stability. The maximum rate
Performance data on Salvajina has been presented to ASCE and observed was 5 mm/m height of fill, which is quite low in
ICOLD6 7 8. In this article, only a summary of the more significant comparison with other embankments.
measurements is presented to provide an overview of performance.
Gravel-rockfill moduli. The settlement of the gravels (Zone
Settlements. Fig. 11 shows the equal settlement contours at the
end of construction and after the first reservoir filling. There is a Table II —Relationship between gravity and water load moduli and σ0c as observed at
striking difference between the maximum settlement in the gravels Salvajina dam
(40 cm) and that of the rockfill (73 cm). There is also a sharp break Zone of influence σ0c Gravity load Water load
in the settlement contours at the interface between Zones 2 and 4, around the cluster of (lb/in2)** moduli moduli
and there must be a considerable load transfer from the latter to the pressure cells* (lb/in2) (lb/in2)
former. This interaction is of no consequence to the appropriate A 21-36 7100-14 200
behaviour of the concrete face, which requires a minimum B 36-50 14 200-21 350 54 000
deformation under it. The maximum settlement during the first
filling of the reservoir was 10 cm at C 50-71 21 350-28 500 30 000

D 92-102 42 600-56 800

E 92-107 7100-8500

*See Fig.2

** σ oc adopted as a measure of stress level al several locations within the dam fill

Water Power & Dam Construction June 1986

Fig. 10. Concrete face instrumentation.

the gravity modulus and is in agreement with precedents9,l0.

Concrete face performance

Joint movements. Measurements were made in three orthogonal
• normal to the joint, to measure joint opening or closing as
Fig. 9. Details of the face slab joints, showing: (a) outer slabs; and, (b) inner • parallel to the joint, to measure joint shear in the plane of the
concrete face; and,
• normal to the concrete face, to measure normal settlement of it
relative to the toe slab.
2) and rockfill (Zone 4) were measured with Swedish settlement The maximum movements across the joints during reservoir
boxes and the stresses by total pressure cells, as shown in Fig. 2. filling occurred, as expected, along the perimetric joint. The values
The load-vertical strain plots for the gravel-rockfill yielded the are given in Table III and the location where the measure-
gravity load moduli shown in Table II. These records indicate that
the modulus of deformation is dependent on the state of stress
within the embankment and the type of fill material. For the same
stress level, the gravity load modulus of the gravel fill is seven
times higher than that of the compacted rockfill. The water load
modulus was also determined under the assumption that the
concrete face deflects in the same direction as the water load6.
This modulus turned out to be from 1.5 to 2 times larger than

Table III —Joint movements caused by water load (mm)

+ - + -
Group No Location El. O /C D /U N+/N-
1 LA 1131.4 + 3.6 +4.2 - 7.9
4 4-5 1131.4 +0.5 — 0.0
2 LA 1090 +9.7 -3.7 -11.6
5 4-5 1090 + 7.3 — + 10.6
3 LA 1054 +6.1 -3.1 - 5.0
6 LA 1035 + 2.7 _-
-2.0 -18.9
7 BS 1015 +0.6 - 3.5
8 BS 1015 +0.3 — - 4.8
9 RA 1054 -0.8 + 1.1 -15.8
11 RA 1090 -4.5 + 5.8 - 5.0
10 17-18 1090 -0.1 — —
14 15-16 1090 + 1.6 — —
13 RA 1131 + 1.0 +4.0 + 0.8
12 19-20 1131 +0.4 — + 0.2
O + = Joint opening N + = Concrete face bulging
C~ = Joint closing N — =Concrete face settlement
D + = Joint downslope shear LA =Left abutment Fig.11 Equal settlement contours (cm)
U = Joint upslope shear RA = Right abutment
BS = Bottom slab

Water Power & Dam Construction June 1 986 6

Concluding remarks
Following the current trend in design details and with appro-
priate engineering to take care of difficult foundations and less-
than-perfect fill materials, it is to be expected that the frequency
of acceptance of concrete-faced rockfill dams will be enhanced.
Attention to detail, both during design and construction, is
essential to obtain a high standard of technical performance. For
the concrete-faced rockfill dam in particular, careful inspection
by a knowledgable and highly responsible expert during
execution of the work continues to be one of the principal
requirements. □

The authors are grateful to Messrs. G. Regalado. CVC Technical Sub-Manager, and
O. J. Guerrero, Salvajina Project Manager, for permission to publish this article.

1. COOKE. J. B., "The 18th Terzaghi Lecture: Progress in Rockfill Dams," Journal of
the Geotechnical Engineering Division. ASCE; Vol. 110, October 1984.

2. GOOD, R. J., "Kangaroo Creek Dam-Use of a Weak Schist as Rockfill for a

Concrete Face Rockfill Dam," XII ICOLD Congress, Mexico, Vol. 1, Q44-R33;

3. MACKENSIE, P. R., AND MCDONALD, L. A., "Use of Soft Rock in Mangrove Creek
Dam," 20th ANCOLD General Meeting; 1980.

4. PENMAN. A., AND CHARLES, J. A., "The Quality and Suitability of Rockfill Used in
Dam Construction," XII ICOLD Congress, Mexico, Vol. 1. Q44-R26; 1976.

Fig. 12. Dam face strains caused by water load 5. VITHAIANI, J., AND BEENE, R., "The Use of Soft Rock for R. D. Bailey Dam," XII
ICOLD Congress, Mexico, Vol. 1, Q44-R15; 1976.

6. HACELAS, J. E., RAMIREZ, C. A., AND RKGAI.ADO, G., "Construction and

merits were made are shown in Fig. 10. The maximum movements Performance of Salvajina Dam," Proceedings. ASCE Symposium on Concrete
are within the capacity of the waterstops to deform without rupture. Face Rockfill Dams — Design, Construction and Performance, (Edited by J.
Barry Cooke and J. L. Sherard) ASCE, Detroit, USA; October 1985.

Face strains. Typical Salvajina dam face strains caused by water 7. HACELAS, J. E., AND RAMIREZ, C. A., "Discussion on the 18th Terzaghi Lecture"
load are shown in Fig. 12 and the location of the strain metres in Progress in Rockfill Dams," Journal of the Geotechnical Engineering Division,
Fig. 10. Tension zones in the down-slope direction are indicated ASCE; Vol. 112, February 1986.
near the crest and the toe, in agreement with the development of 8. HACELAS, J. E., AND RAMIREZ, C. A., "Salvajina Concrete Face Gravel-Rockfill
shear strains between the concrete face and the fill. Nominal strains Dam — Measurement of Some Significant Features," XV ICOLD Congress,
occurred only in the horizontal direction. The general trend Switzerland. Vol. 5, Q56-R8; 1985.
developed (see Fig. 12b), is in agreement with the perimetric joint
9. LAGOS MARQUEZ, P., AND CO-AUTHORS, "Deformation Characteristics of Foz do
movements. Arcia Concrete Face Rockfill Dam as Revealed by a Simple Instrumentation
System", XV ICOLD Congress. Switzerland, Vol. 1, Q56-R21; 1985.
Leakage. The maximum leakage measured at the downstream toe
has been 60 1/s. In the abutment galleries the maximum value has 10. FITZPATRICK, M., COLE, B., AND CO-AUTHORS, "Design of Concrete-Faced
been 10 1/s. These values are affected by rainfall at the dam site. Rockfill Dams," Proceedings, ASCE Symposium on Concrete Face Rockfill
Dams-Design, Construction and Performance, (Edited by J. Barry Cooke and
This leakage performance is considered excellent for the size of the J. L. Sherard) ASCE, Detroit, USA; October 1985.
dam and characteristics of its foundation.
11. SIERRA, J. M., RAMIREZ. C. A., AND HACELAS, J. E., "Design Features of
Salvajina Dam", Proceedings. ASCE Symposium on Concrete Face Rockfill
Dams — Design, Construction and Performance, (Edited by J. Barry Cooke
and J. L. Sherard) ASCE, Detroit. USA; October 1985.

SHERARD, J., AND DUNNIGAN, L., "Filters and Leakage Control in Embankment
Dams." Proceedings. ASCE Symposium Spring Convention. Denver; May 1985.

← The concrete-faced gravel-rockfill dam and its

reservoir at Salvajina, Colombia.

7 Water Power & Dam Construction June 1 986