Historical Development of Arch Dams. From Cut-Stone Arches to Modern Concrete Designs
(A revised history of arch dams)

by Hubert CHANSON (h.chanson@uq.edu.au) and D.Patrick JAMES
M.E., ENSHM Grenoble, INSTN, PhD (Cant.), DEng (Qld), Eur.Ing., MIEAust., MIAHR, 13th Arthur Ippen awardee
 Dept. of Civil Engrg., Univ. of Queensland, Brisbane QLD 4072, Autralia

Dam designs may be divided into three main types : gravity structures relying on their weight for stability, arch structures using the abutment reaction forces and buttress dams. The design of an arch dam relies on the abutment reaction forces to resist the water pressure force and it requires advanced engineering expertise. The writers demonstrate that the historical development of arch dams took place in five stages: the Roman arch dams, the Mongol arch dam, four arch dams in the early 19th century, the Australian concrete arch dams and the modern arch dams of the early 20th century (CHANSON and JAMES 1998,1999).
Roman dam site at Glanum
[1] The first arch dam is probably the Roman dam at Glanum (Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France), built during the first century BC to supply water to the Roman town. Recent studies indicated that the dam was a thin arch made of cut stones and the wall abutments were cut in the rock (AGUSTA-BOULAROT and PAILLET 1997). The site was well selected (Photograph beside). The writers hypothesise that the arch dam design was introduced because the site was favourable to a masonry dam but nearby construction materials were scarce. Another unusual Roman dam was the Esparragalejo dam, near Merida (Spain). Built around the 1st century AD for irrigation purposes, the structure was a multiple-arch buttress dam, 5.6-m high and 2-m thick at base with circular arches.
The arch technique was applied by the Romans to sewers, aqueducts and bridges, although there is no evidence of scientific design rules, Professor C. O'CONNOR suggested that, for Roman bridges, the ratio of arch rib thickness to span was about 1/10 for spans less than 15-m and could be reduced down to 1/20 for greater spans (O'CONNOR 1993). Interestingly the ratio of dam wall thickness to arch curvature radius was between 1/10 and 1/7 at Glanum (i.e. close to Roman bridge dimensions).

[2] During the 13th century, the Mongols invaded and settled in Iran where they built several large dams. Around the 14th century, they built also a number of arch dams (GOBLOT 1967). The Mongol arch dams were thick arch walls significantly higher than the Roman dams. The first one (Kebar, AD 1300) was heightened to 26 m around AD 1600 while the Kurit dam was 60-m high before heightening. Interestingly these structures were used for several centuries and several dams were still standing in the 1970s.
Some transfer of expertise on arch dam design might have taken place from the Romans to the Iranians. After the defeat of Valerian's army in AD 260, 70,000 men were captured and transported to Persia where they were forced to work. The Roman prisoners built bridge-weirs and dams in Iran and some structures were still in use when the Mongols invaded in Iran. As the Roman army was involved in dam construction, the Mongols might be aware of the Roman arch dams. Both the Roman and Mongol dams in Iran were milestones in arch dam development. From the 14th century up to the beginning of the 19th century, the arch dam development was scattered and disparate.
Zola dam (Fra.)
[3] During the first part of the 19th century, the arch dam design was dominated by four large structures: the Meer Allum (India), Jones Falls (Canada), Zola (France) and Parramatta (Australia) dams. In India, the extra-ordinary Meer Allum (Mir Alam) dam was completed around 1804 with a 10-Mm3 water storage capacity. The multiple-arch dam was built to supply water to Hyderabad and it is still in use. It consists of 21 semi-circular vertical arches with span ranging from 21.3 to 44.8 m. The Jones Falls dam was completed in 1831 as part of the Rideau waterway system (Canada). The 18.7-m high dam was a constant-radius arch wall, 8.4-m thick at base. The dam is still used today for hydropower and navigation purposes. The Zola dam, was built between 1847 and 1854 for the water supply of Aix-en-Provence, France. It was the first arch dam design based on a rational stress analysis (SCHNITTER 1994). The reservoir was used as a town water supply until 1877. Today it is still in use for flood retention (Photo beside). The 12.5-m high Parramatta dam near Sydney (Australia) wa built between 1851 and 1856. It was a constant-radius arch with a cylinder shape and it was heightened by 3.35-m in 1898.
All four structures were constant-radius arches built in cut-stone masonry. They are still in use and their long-lasting operation demonstrates the soundness of design and the quality of the masonry construction. It is generally believed that the thickness of cylindrical arch was calculated using the thin cylinder formula. It is worth noting that three dams were built in the British empire. Two structures were designed by Royal Engineers : the Meer Allum and Jones Falls dams. The writers believe that the Royal Engineers in India were aware of the successes of Meer Allum and Jones Falls dams and they might have advised Australian engineers.
75-Miles dam (Aus.)
[4] The 75 Miles dam was built in 1880 near Warwick (QLD, Australia), as a water supply for steam locomotives (CHANSON 1999). It was a non-reinforced concrete thick arch (Photo beside). In 1900-1901, the dam was heightened with the addition of three concrete buttresses. The 75-Miles dam in 1880 is the world's oldest concrete arch dam and it is still in use as an emergency reserve. Completed in 1896, Lithgow No. 1 dam (NSW, Australia) was a concrete single-radius thin-arch structure. In 1914 or 1915, the dam was heightened. The dam was disused around 1983-84 because the reservoir did not have enough available head to feed the new wastewater treatment plant. Lithgow No. 1 dam was the first Australian thin-arch dam, and it is the world's oldest concrete thin-arch structure (CHANSON and JAMES 1998). Two thin-arch dams, de Burgh dam and Barren Jack City dam (NSW, Australia), were built around 1907-1909 for railway water supply. These were reinforced-concrete single-radius thin-arches, the world's oldest reinforced-concrete thin arch dams. Another Australian arch dam is the Junction Reefs dam completed in 1897. The multiple-arch dam has 5 elliptical arches, each with a 8.5-m span and a 60-degrees lean. It was the first modern multiple-arch design.

[5] The introduction of concrete as a construction material for arch dams marked a significant advance. Designers were able to consider complex curved shapes to minimise the construction material and the overall cost. The developments took place first in North America. The world's oldest cupola dam is the Ithaca dam (New York, USA, 1903). Designed to be a 27-m high structure, construction was stopped when the dam height reached 9-m because of local opposition. The oldest concrete multiple arch dam was the Hume Lake dam (California, USA 1908) built in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 114 days ! The 206-m long 18.6-m high structure consisted of 12 circular arches (15.24-m span) and concrete reinforcement included old logging cables (over 12 km) and railroad scrap iron. The first constant-angle arch dam was completed in 1914 : the Salmon Creek dam (Alaska). The arch radius ranged from 44.96-m at base to 100.9-m at crest. Another advanced design was the Coolidge dam (Globe Ariz., USA 1928), the first cupola-shaped multiple-arch structure.

Photo No. 1 : Site of the Roman dam at Glanum (Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France). The present dam, les Peirou dam, was built on the foundation of the Roman arch dam at Glanum (CHANSON and JAMES 1998b, 1999). Photograph taken in June 1998.
Photo No. 2 : Zola dam, (Aix-en-Pr., France 1854) is an arch dam designed by Maurice ZOLA (1795-1847), father of the novelist Emile ZOLA (CHANSON and JAMES 1998b, 1999). Photograph taken in June 1998.
Photo No. 3 : 75 Miles dam, the world's oldest concrete arch dam in 1880 shortly before completion (Courtesy of the MACCROSSAN family) (CHANSON and JAMES 1998b, 1999).
Photo No. 4 : De Burgh dam (NSW, Australia 1908) is Australia's first reinforced concrete arch dam. Named after its designer Ernst de BURGH, it was built as a water supply for the narrow-gauge railway  line connecting Goondah NSW to the construction site of the Burrinjuck dam (CHANSON and JAMES 1998b).
Photo No. 5 : Junction Reefs dam (Lyndhurst NSW, Austalia, 1897). Built between 1895 and 1897, completed in 1897, the Junction Reefs dam is a concrete-brick multiple arch dam (CHANSON and JAMES 1998b). There are 5 arches, with a 8.5-m span each, sitting on 6 buttresses. The dam foundation and the outside walls are made of concrete. The arches and buttresses are brick works. The reservoir was built to supply hydropower to the mining company. Four Pelton wheels were supplied by the dam. The Junction Reefs dam is well-known wroldwide as a heritage structure of international significance (WEGMANN 1922, SMITH 1970, SCHNITTER 1994).  Interstingly the Junction Reefs dam may be compared with the Tallong dam. The Tallong dam, completed in 1883, is a brick buttress-slab structure, still in use. Photo No. 1 : View from the left abutment on 28 Dec. 1997; note the unlined rick spillway in the foreground.
Photo No. 6 : Jones Falls dam (Canada, 1831). Designed by Colonel John BY, and built betweeen 1828 and 1831, the 18.7 m high masonry arch dam is used to feed the Rideau Canal linking Kingston to Ottawa. Photo No. 6.1 : View from the left bank (Courtesy of Ken WATSON).


   AGUSTA-BOULAROT, S., and PAILLET, J.L. (1997). "Le Barrage et l'Aqueduc Occidental de Glanum: le Premier Barrage-Voûte de l'Histoire des Techniques ?" ('The Dam and Western Aqueduct of Glanum: the Fist Arch-Dam in the History of Techniques ?') Revue Archéologique, No. 1, pp. 27-78 (in French).
   CHANSON, H. (1998). "Extreme Reservoir Sedimentation in Australia : a Review." Intl Jl of Sediment Research, UNESCO-IRTCES, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 55-63 (ISSN 1001-6279). (Download PDF file)
   CHANSON, H. (1999). "The 75-Miles Dam in Warwick : the World's Oldest Concrete Arch Dam." Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 65-75 (ISSN 0085 5804). (Download PDF file)
  CHANSON, H., and JAMES, P. (1998a). "Rapid Reservoir Sedimentation of Four Historic Thin Arch Dams in Australia." Jl of Performance of Constructed Facilities, ASCE, Vol. 12, No. 2, May, pp. 85-92. Errata : Vol. 12, No. 3, p.169. (download PDF file).
   CHANSON, H., and JAMES, D.P. (1998b). "Historical Development of Arch Dams in Australia : from Advanced Designs to Engineering Failures." Research Report CE 157, Dept. of Civil Engineering, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, August (ISBN 1 86499 0791). (PDF version at EprintsUQ)
   CHANSON, H., and JAMES, D.P. (1999). "Une Histoire Revisée des Barrages-Voûtes (de l'Antiquité à 1900)." ('A Revised History of Arch Dams (from Antiquity to 1900).') Annales des Ponts et Chaussées, Ingénieur Science Société, Vol. 91, Sept., pp. 76-83 (ISSN 0152-9668) (in French). (Download PDF file)
   CHANSON, H., and JAMES, D.P. (1999-2000). "Railway Dams in Australia : Six Historical Structures." Trans. Newcomen Society, Vol. 71, No. 2, pp. 283-303 (ISSN 0372-0187). (PDF Version at EprintsUQ)
   CHANSON, H., and JAMES, D.P. (2002). "Historical Development of Arch Dams : from Cut-Stone Arches to Modern Concrete Designs." Aust. Civil Engrg. Trans., IEAust, Vol. CE43, pp. 39-56 & front cover  (ISSN 0819-0259). (PDF file at EprintsUQ).
   GOBLOT, H. (1967). "Sur Quelques Barrages Anciens et la Genèse des Barrages-Voûtes." ('On Some Ancient Dams and the Genesis of the Arch Dams.') Revue d'Histoire des Sciences, Tome XX, No. 2, April-June, pp. 109-140 (in French).
   JAMES, D.P., and CHANSON, H. (2000). "Cement by the Barrel and Cask." Concrete in Australia, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 10-13 (ISSN1440-656X). (PDF Version at EprintsUQ) (Download ZIP file) (See also http://www.engaust.com.au/magazines/cia/0900coverstory.html)
   O'CONNOR, C. (1993). "Roman Bridges." Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 235 pages.
   SCHNITTER, N.J. (1994). "A History of Dams : the Useful Pyramids." Balkema Publ., Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
   SCHULZE, O. (1897). "Notes on the Belubula Dam." Trans. Australian Institute of Mining Eng., Vol. 4, Paper 52, pp. 160-172 (+ 2 plates).
   SMITH, N. (1971). "A History of Dams." The Chaucer Press, Peter Davies, London, UK.
   WATSON, K.W. (2000) "A History of the Rideau Lockstations" Friends of the Rideau, Ontario, Canada, 120 pages.
   WEGMANN, E. (1922). "The Design and Construction of Dams." John Wiley & Sons, New York, USA, 7th edition.

Related links
Structurae, International Database and Gallery of Structures {http://www.structurae.de/index_e.html}
ICOLD (International Commission on Large Dams)
Dams Safety Committee of New South Wales Australia

Bureau of Reclamation Concrete Dams
US Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs in Pittsburgh's district
US Army Corps of Engineers, Walla Walla district  [Photographs are listed Here]
US Army Corps of Engineers, Portland district, Photofile [**]

Cement by the barrel and cask {http://www.engaust.com.au/magazines/cia/0900coverstory.html}
The Rideau canal and the Jones Falls dam {http://www.rideau-info.com/} {http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/images/img-n-jonesdam1.html}


The writers acknowledge the help and assistance of a large number of people, including : the Australian Railway Historical Society, Warwick section; Mr P. BRIXIE, Warwick QLD; Mr and Mrs J. CHANSON, Paris, France; Ms CHOU Y.H., Brisbane QLD; Mr B.S.C. HARPER, University of Melbourne VIC; Mr Michael N. CHRIMES, Libarian, Institution of Civil Engineers, London, UK; Mr I. HOLT, Lithgow Historical Society NSW; Professor C. O'CONNOR, Brisbane QLD; Mr J.L. PAILLET, CNRS-IRAA, France; Queensland Railways, Historical Centre QLD; Mr Michael ROBERTSON, Warwick QLD; Mr P. ROYET, CEMAGREF, Aix-en-Provence, France; Ken WATSON, Canada; Professor R.L. WHITMORE, Brisbane QLD.


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Hubert CHANSON is a Professor in Civil Engineering, Hydraulic Engineering and Environmental Fluid Mechanics at the University of Queeensland, Australia. His research interests include design of hydraulic structures, experimental investigations of two-phase flows, applied hydrodynamics, hydraulic engineering, water quality modelling, environmental fluid mechanics, estuarine processes and natural resources. He has been an active consultant for both governmental agencies and private organisations. His publication record includes over 620 international refereed papers and his work was cited over 3,700 times (WoS) to 5,600 times (Google Scholar) since 1990. Hubert Chanson is the author of several books : "Hydraulic Design of Stepped Cascades, Channels, Weirs and Spillways" (Pergamon, 1995), "Air Bubble Entrainment in Free-Surface Turbulent Shear Flows" (Academic Press, 1997), "The Hydraulics of Open Channel Flow : An Introduction" (Butterworth-Heinemann, 1st edition 1999, 2nd editon 2004), "The Hydraulics of Stepped Chutes and Spillways" (Balkema, 2001), "Environmental Hydraulics of Open Channel Flows" (Butterworth-Heinemann, 2004), "Applied Hydrodynamics: an Introduction of Ideal and Real Fluid Flows" (CRC Press, 2009), and "Tidal Bores, Aegir, Eagre, Mascaret, Pororoca: Theory And Observations" (World Scientific, 2011). He co-authored two further books "Fluid Mechanics for Ecologists" (IPC Press, 2002) and "Fluid Mechanics for Ecologists. Student Edition" (IPC, 2006). His textbook "The Hydraulics of Open Channel Flows : An Introduction" has already been translated into Spanish (McGraw-Hill Interamericana) and Chinese (Hydrology Bureau of Yellow River Conservancy Committee), and the second edition was published in 2004. In 2003, the IAHR presented him with the 13th Arthur Ippen Award for outstanding achievements in hydraulic engineering. The American Society of Civil Engineers, Environmental and Water Resources Institute (ASCE-EWRI) presented him with the 2004 award for the Best Practice paper in the Journal of Irrigation and Drainage Engineering ("Energy Dissipation and Air Entrainment in Stepped Storm Waterway" by Chanson and Toombes 2002). Hubert Chanson edited further several books : "Fluvial, Environmental and Coastal Developments in Hydraulic Engineering" (Mossa, Yasuda & Chanson 2004, Balkema), "Hydraulics. The Next Wave" (Chanson & Macintosh 2004, Engineers Australia), "Hydraulic Structures: a Challenge to Engineers and Researchers" (Matos & Chanson 2006, The University of Queensland), "Experiences and Challenges in Sewers: Measurements and Hydrodynamics" (Larrate & Chanson 2008, The University of Queensland), "Hydraulic Structures: Useful Water Harvesting Systems or Relics?" (Janssen & Chanson 2010, The University of Queensland), "Balance and Uncertainty: Water in a Changing World" (Valentine et al. 2011, Engineers Australia). He chaired the Organisation of the 34th IAHR World Congress held in Brisbane, Australia between 26 June and 1 July 2011.
 His Internet home page is http://www.uq.edu.au/~e2hchans. He also developed a gallery of photographs website {http://www.uq.edu.au/~e2hchans/photo.html} that received more than 2,000 hits per month since inception.

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