The Fontenelle Dam Incident 1965: Download

Fontenelle Dam incident was, arguably, the largest dam incident in US history that did not result in failure. A large leak developed in Bureau of Reclamation’s new dam and quickly eroded a very large cavity on the downstream slope. It was only through large-scale and prompt intervention that the dam was saved. In the decades following the incident, few people – even at Reclamation – knew that it had occurred. Starting in 2010, the author located an extensive dam incident technical report, a first-person incident narrative, two moving picture color films, hundreds of photos, a post-incident geology report, design/construction data, original correspondence, and dozens of news articles.  In 2011, he interviewed the 91-year-old man who led the response from the scene 46 years previously. From this extensive research we now have not only a compelling day-by-day visual account of the incident, but an in-depth understanding of the complex, and well-advanced failure mechanisms that nearly breached the dam.  Webinar attendees will learn about incident response techniques, incident monitoring, marshaling of equipment/materials, dealing with the press, dam/abutment interface, need for proper foundation treatment, seepage erosion, sinkhole development, seepage control, and investigative techniques.  But most importantly, attendees will learn not to be complacent with past success and to be diligent in the important work of designing and repairing dams.
Key Takeaways:

  • Peer review and defensive designs are critically important
  • The behavior of seepage at the interface of embankment dams and their foundation is difficult to model but is a potential major weakness
  • Past success can create confidence bias
  • Incident intervention is challenging but can be successful
  • To properly learn from dam and levee incidents, we must not only understand the physical failure mechanisms, but also the human and organizational factors that designed, built, and operated the dam.

Mark E. Baker, P.E.

Dam and Levee Safety Officer, National Park Service

Mark E. Baker is a Registered Professional Civil Engineer currently serving as the Dam & Levee Safety Officer for the National Park Service where he manages the risks of 60 dams, dozens of levees and other hydraulic structures. In his quarter-century with the Bureau of Reclamation, he led Reclamation's assistance to the BIA, including: the adoption of risk-based dam assessment for the 110 Bureau of Indian Affairs Dams, Early Warning Systems, Emergency Action Plans, and dam repair projects. He also led the Reduce Dam Safety Risk project to identify and adopt best dam safety practices throughout the six Department of the Interior bureaus with dams. Mark is the founder and chair of ASDSO's Dam Failures & Incidents Committee. He is also founder and co-leader of the Washington DC Silver Jackets Flood Risk Management Group. He has researched and written technical papers, policies and guidelines on a variety dam safety topics. He has produced two short films - one featuring the Lawn Lake Dam Failure, and the other about Washington DC flood awareness. Mark's Fontenelle Dam Incident presentation received recognition as ASDSO's best Decade Dam Failure presentation in 2015


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