Geophysical evaluation of the Success Dam foundation, Porterville, California

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Success Dam is a zonedearth fill embankment located near Porterville, CA. Studies of Success Dam by the recent Dam Safety Assurance Program (DSAP) have demonstrated the potential for seismic instability and large deformation of the dam due to relatively low levels of earthquake shaking. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted several phases of investigations to determine the properties of the dam and its underlying foundation. Detailed engineering studies have been applied using a large number of analytical techniques to estimate the response of the dam and foundation system when subjected to earthquake loading. Although a large amount of data have been acquired, most are 'point' data from borings and results have to be extrapolated between the borings. Geophysical techniques were applied to image the subsurface to provide a better understanding of the spatial distribution of key units that potentially impact the stability. Geophysical investigations employing seismic refraction tomography, direct current (DC) resistivity, audio magnetotellurics (AMT) and self-potential (SP) were conducted across the location of the foundation of a new dam proposed to replace the existing one. Depth to bedrock and the occurrence of beds potentially susceptible to liquefaction were the focus of the investigations. Seismic refraction tomography offers a deep investigation of the foundation region and looks at compressional and shear properties of the material. Whereas resistivity surveys determines conductivity relationships in the shallow subsurface and can produce a relatively high-resolution image of geological units with different electrical properties. AMT was applied because it has the potential to look considerably deeper than the other methods, is useful for confirming depth to bedrock, and can be useful in identifying deep seated faults. SP is a passive electrical method that measures the electrical streaming potential in the subsurface that responds to the movement of ground water. SP surveys were conducted at low pool and high pool conditions in order to look for evidence of seepage below the existing dam. In this paper, we summarize these techniques, present their results at Success Dam, and discuss general application of these techniques for investigating dams and their foundations.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Conference Paper
Publication Subtype:
Conference Paper
Geophysical evaluation of the Success Dam foundation, Porterville, California
Year Published:
Larger Work Title:
Association of State Dam Safety Officials - Dam Safety 2006, Proceedings from the 2006 Annual Conference
Conference Title:
2006 Annual Conference on Dam Safety
Conference Location:
Boston, MA
Conference Date:
10 September 2008 through 14 September 2008