On October 5, 1991, following 35 consecutive days of dry weather, a 105-meter long, 37-meter wide, 5.2-meter deep concrete-lined watersupply reservoir on a hillside in the eastern edge of Centralia, Washington, suddenly failed, sending 13,250 cubic meters of water rushing down a small, steep tributary channel into the city. Two houses were destroyed, several others damaged, mud and debris were deposited in streets, on lawns, and in basements over four city blocks, and 400 people were evacuated. The cause of failure is believed to have been a sliding failure along a weak seam or joint in the siltstone bedrock beneath the reservoir, possibly triggered by increased seepage into the rock foundation through continued deterioration of concrete panel seams, and a slight rise (0.6 meters) in the pool elevation. A second adjacent reservoir containing 18,900 cubic meters of water also drained, but far more slowly, when a 41-cm diameter connecting pipe was broken by the landslide. The maximum discharge resulting from the dam-failure was about 71 cubic meters per second. A reconstructed hydrograph based on the known reservoir volume and calculated peak discharge indicates the flood duration was about 6.2 minutes. Sedimentologic evidence, high-water mark distribution, and landforms preserved in the valley floor indicate that the dam failure flood consisted of two flow phases: an initial debris flow that deposited coarse bouldery sediment along the slope-area reach as it lost volume, followed soon after by a water-flood that achieved a stage about one-half meter higher than the debris flow. The Centralia dam failure is one of three constructed dams destroyed by rapid foundation failure that defines the upper limits of an envelope curve of peak flood discharge as a function of potential energy for failed constructed dams worldwide.
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USGS Numbered Series
Multiple flow processes accompanying a dam-break flood in a small upland watershed, Centralia, Washington