Tailings Mobilization Estimates for Dam Breach Studies

Author: Daniel Fontaine, P.Eng., Violeta Martin, Ph.D., P.Eng.
Conference: Tailings and Mine Waste 2015
Date: October 25-28, 2015

Quantitative assessment of potential consequences caused by a flood from a dam breach of a tailings facility requires an estimate of the volume of water and tailings released during the breach. A methodology for estimating the volume of tailings mobilized by the free water stored in the pond and the resulting initial flood wave following a dam breach is presented.

Tailings mobilization can be estimated as a function of the stored water volume and the physical characteristics of the tailings deposit. The result is an estimate of the total outflow consisting of volumes of free water, and tailings and interstitial water that could be potentially mobilized. This approach indicates that a larger operating pond would mobilize more tailings than a smaller pond.

Similarly, a tailings deposit that is more consolidated or only partially saturated would result in a smaller volume of tailings being released in a breach. These are the primary attributes of stored tailings affecting the potential consequences of a breach. An understanding of these attributes allows the practitioner to use the results of the analysis as a decision making tool for decreasing the consequences of failure.