Best Practices in Tailings Dam Design

Modern tailings dam designs have evolved with and from the developing state of practice for water dams, and continues to evolve today. Tailing dams are a unique variation of water dams and, while the geotechnical principles used for water dams apply equally to tailing dams, there are distinct differences in design of the dam section. Implementation of good design practice starts with understanding the site conditions, properties of the stored tailings, and geotechnical properties of dam materials. The selection of the dam design section must, in addition to satisfying dam safety criteria, include the special environmental design considerations of the tailings and requirements for long term closure. Examples of poor practice in selection of a tailing dam design section are provided to illustrate some of the common, and uncommon, design flaws in dams that have recently been constructed or designed. Tailing dams are typically raised over a long period of time, which provides an opportunity to incorporate knowledge gained from the observational approach. The final objective of the tailings dam design is to allow a safe sustainable closure condition. The knowledge to design, construct, and close, safe sustainable tailing dams is available however there is a failure within the engineering, education, regulatory and industry bodies to consistently implement good tailing dam design practices.

McLeod, H.N., B.D. Watts and H. Plewes. 2015. “Best Practices in Tailings Dam Design.” CIM Montreal 2015, Montreal, Quebec City, Canada.

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