Design and Construction of Tailings Dams

CIM Bulletin, 1972


The design, construction and operation of tailings dams is rapidly becoming a major consideration for most new mining developments, as well as for many existing operations. In North America, under pressure from public opinion, various government agencies have in recent years enacted legislation covering the design, construction and operation of tailings dams. In British Columbia, comprehensive legislation has been passed during the past year (1971). All of these new regulations may be placed into two broad categories: regulations concerning the safety of the dam and appurtenant structures, and regulations concerning the prevention of pollution. Both types of regulation affect the design of the tailings dam facilities. Consequently, they must be considered jointly by the designer. A good tailings dam design must satisfy the basic requirements of safety, pollution control, storage capacity and economy. To achieve this, 'the design must be based on a thorough understanding of both the geotechnical problems involved and the requirements of the mining development. Obviously, this requires close cooperation between the designing geotechnical engineers and the mining operators. This paper outlines the major engineering factors that should be considered in the investigation, design, construct ion and operation of tailings dams. Basic methods of tailings dam construction are reviewed and the advantages and disadvantages of each briefly discussed. Comparisons are made between the design and construction of conventional water dams and tailings dams. Examples are presented of some of the problems that may arise during construction and operation of a tailings dam. The paper also explains the need for basic instrumentation of tailings dams and for carrying out simple field tests and measurements during construction and operation. Of prime importance is the downstream monitoring of surface and subsurface seepage flows. These observations are invaluable where contamina.tion of surface and/or subsurface water may become a contentious issue at some future date. Each tailings dam design must be based on a study of the particular requirements of that project. To make a proper evaluation, adequate data must be available concerning a large number of items, including such things as: topography, hydrology, geology, subsoil properties, seismicity, government regulations, fineness of mill grind, mill water balance, availability of suitable construction materials, volume of water to be stored behind starter dam,
Keywords: Tailings Dam., Dam Construction, dyke, open-pit, site investigation