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STABILITY RESTORATION OF AN AMBURSEN DAM

ON AN ALLUVIAL FOUNDATION
By Ronald H. Waters, Ph.D., P.E., Janis C. Murphy, P.E. and Charles N. Easton, P.E.
Freese and Nichols, Inc., Fort Worth, Texas

Introduction
Wesley Seale Dam, which forms Lake Corpus Christi, is located approximately 32
miles north of the City of Corpus Christi, Texas on the Nueces River. Construction of the dam
was completed in 1958 under the direction of the Lower Nueces River Water Supply District.
The dam was constructed to provide water to the City of Corpus Christi and surrounding
municipalities. The City assumed ownership of the dam in 1986. See Figure 1 for a view of
Wesley Seale Dam.

Figure 1 Wesley Seale Dam

Project Description
The dam was designed by the Ambursen Engineering Corporation, and constructed
between 1956 and 1958 at a cost of $8.75 million. The dam consists of the north and south
spillways and the north, south, and center embankments. The spillways are Ambursen-type,

reinforced concrete slab and buttress structures that separate the three embankments. The
total length of the dam is approximately 5,970 feet. The spillway structures are equipped with
a total of 60 crest gates (33 in the north spillway and 27 in the south spillway), nominally 40
feet wide by 6 feet high to regulate the reservoir pool elevation. As designed, the normal pool
elevation for Lake Corpus Christi is 94.0 feet mean sea level (msl), which is the elevation of
the top of the south spillway gates. The north and south spillway crest elevation with the
gates fully lowered is 88.0 feet msl.
The spillway alluvium includes stiff highly plastic clays and medium dense silty fine
sands underlain by Pleistocene hard clays and very dense silty sands. The spillways were
built on the floodplain with concrete mat foundations varying between Elevation 46 feet msl
and 50 feet msl. The dam was designed to accommodate a future 10-foot increase in height.
A buttress foundation extension of 17 feet was included in the initial construction to
accommodate the raising of the dam. A keyed and waterstopped construction joint separates
the extension from the main foundation. Plans for raising the dam never came to fruition and
have been abandoned.
Since the reservoir has no flood control function and is filled whenever runoff allows,
excess streamflow must be passed immediately using the gated spillways. The stilling basin
and a concrete outlet canal below the south spillway are used to conduct low-flow releases to
the Nueces River channel at about Elevation 29 feet msl. The hearth weir maintains at least
5.5 feet of water in the south spillway stilling basin. The north spillway is intended to be
operated only after sufficient flow has been developed through the south spillway to raise the
river and flood the north stilling basin, which is normally empty. Daily municipal and industrial
releases of about 130 cubic feet per second (cfs) and monthly bays and estuary releases are
made through the south spillway basin and canal using sluice gates and a 48-inch Howell
Bunger valve.
Diffuser beams were provided to break up the flow of water after it passes through the
spillway gates. Stilling basins consisting of flat hearth slabs and concrete end walls lie
downstream of the spillway structures. The hearth slabs are separated from the spillway
foundation extensions by keyed expansion joints. Transverse expansion joints run through
the spillway foundations and stilling basins generally at 200-foot intervals. The buttresses
that lie above the expansion joints have special details to accommodate longitudinal
differential movement.
The primary underseepage control is provided by a steel sheet pile cutoff that runs
beneath the center of each embankment and beneath the upstream heel of each spillway.
The sheet piles extend about 50 to 60 feet below the dam foundation. A second line of sheet
piles 30 feet long was placed beneath the downstream edge of the spillway buttress
foundation extension, and a third line of piles 20 feet long beneath the downstream hearth
end walls. At the south spillway, 20-foot long sheet piles extend along the perimeter of the
low-flow outlet canal and stilling basin.
Relief wells and upstream clay blankets were added during construction due to the
uncertain integrity of the sheet pile cutoff for the spillways. The relief wells and clay blankets
were designed by a special consultant, Mr. Carl P. Vetter. Mr. Vetter assumed there would
be seepage beneath the sheet piles and designed the relief wells to intercept and manage
the uplift under the spillways.
Twenty-five relief wells 54 to 58 feet deep were constructed just upstream from the
second line of sheet piles. The wells consist of six-inch diameter steel screens in 24-inch

diameter gravel-packed holes. They are spaced 120 feet apart in the south spillway and 80
feet in the north spillway. They discharge through pipes that run across the hearth floors and
through the hearth walls. Most of the relief wells in the south spillway flow constantly. The
wells in the north spillway flow only when the reservoir level is above Elevation 90 feet msl. A
line of three-inch weep holes underlain by a three-layer french drain is provided at the
upstream and downstream edges of the hearth slabs. The embankments have blanket
drains at the toes, and a trench drain to collect the flow in the blanket drain was added along
the north embankment toe after construction.

Investigation
Between 1991 and 1996, indications of distress in the spillways of Wesley Seale Dam
were noted in annual safety inspections. Areas of concern included upward bulging of the
hearth slabs in the spillway stilling basins, cracking in buttresses and abutments, and offsets
in the hearth end wall of the South Spillway. Freese and Nichols, Inc. was retained by the
City of Corpus Christi in October 1996 to investigate the stability of the spillways in a threephase study.
Phase I of the investigation included a site visit, a review of existing documentation,
preliminary mapping of structural cracks, and an alignment survey. Phase I findings
concluded that the soil strength parameters used by Mr. Vetter for his stability analyses were
based on undrained triaxial compression tests, which are not considered conservative based
on current soil mechanics criteria. Estimated drained strength parameters, when substituted
into the documented stability analysis, suggested that the sliding factor of safety for the
spillways could be marginal.
Alignment surveys along the top of the spillway structures and the stilling basin end
walls indicated differential downstream displacement of the spillways. Some of the cracking
observed in the structures also appeared consistent with differential downstream
displacement. The upward bulging of the hearth slabs in certain locations suggested that
excessive hydrostatic uplift pressures might exist beneath the spillways and stilling basins;
however, later explorations revealed that the bulges were most likely caused by swelling
clays beneath the basin floor.
Phase II of the investigation included an evaluation of the uplift under the spillways
using the relief wells as piezometers and the installation of piezometers at three locations
downstream from the South Spillway, one location downstream from the North Spillway, and
two locations beneath the North Spillway hearth slab. Work also included sampling the core
holes and running drained direct shear tests to determine engineering properties for stability
analyses, and a preliminary evaluation of the sliding and overturning stability for one selected
cross section in each spillway. The analyses confirmed that sliding stability of the south
spillway could be marginal at normal pool conditions. Based on these findings, it was
recommended that the lake level be limited to elevation 91 feet msl, approximately 3 feet
below the normal pool elevation, and a more extensive study of the stability of both spillways
be performed.
The final phase of the investigation included the installation of 17 extensometers, four
inclinometers, 11 survey monuments, and 26 alignment and elevation points to monitor dam
movement, plus installation of 51 piezometers and laboratory testing to obtain the necessary

parameters to perform a more detailed stability analysis. The findings of this investigation
confirmed that the stability of both the North and South Spillways was very low and that a
stabilization rehabilitation program was needed.
The major differences between the strength parameters found as a result of the 1997
lab test program and those used in the Vetter design stability analysis of 1957 are the
cohesion estimates for both spillways and the angle of internal friction of the north spillway
foundation. The 1957 design cohesion coefficient is from three to ten times higher than that
found in the 1997 investigation. The 1957 design angle of internal friction for the north
spillway was 29.8 degrees as compared to 17 degrees found in the 1997 investigation. A
summary of the results is provided in Table 1.
Table 1
Foundation Strength Parameters
Parameter

North Spillway

South Spillway

Measured F 1997

17Deg

17Deg

Design F 1957

29.8Deg

16.7Deg

Measured C (KIPS/SF) 1997

0.140

0.140

Design C (KIPS/SF) 1957

0.432

1.440

The difference in the cohesion coefficient is largely the result of the type of test used
for evaluation of the strength parameters.
In the 1955 time-frame, geotechnical
investigations for dams such as Wesley Seale frequently used undrained triaxial tests to
evaluate the strength parameters of clay. Although current textbooks described how pore
water tensions developed in stiff clays during rapid (undrained) tests and migration of water
into the sample during slow (drained) tests could reduce the shear strength, there was
insufficient appreciation among practitioners that such strength reduction could occur in the
field when shear stress was maintained for a long time and free water was available.
Failures that occurred during construction of several large dams demonstrated that the lower
drained shear strength should be used for design. The selection of the shearing test
procedures plays a profound role in the determination of the lower cohesion coefficient and
the lower calculated stability of the spillways.

Stability Analyses
After lowering of the lake level at the completion of the preliminary investigation,
detailed stability analysis were undertaken. The stability analyses were based on measured
downstream displacements of 1.5 to 4.5 inches, which could only have occurred if the sliding
factor of safety of some of the spillway buttresses were at some point in the past at or below
1.0. Movements of this magnitude would suggest that the appropriate strength parameters
for the stability analyses would be those associated with post-peak strains since the peak
strengths have most likely been exceeded during the movements of some of the spillway
buttresses. Based on the drained direct shear strength evaluations, the strength parameters

recommended for the analyses were a post-peak angle of internal friction of 17 degrees and
an associated cohesion of 140 pounds per square foot.
Figure 2 shows the sliding stability model used for Wesley Seale Dam. The horizontal
driving forces tending to cause sliding are generated by the water pressure and the active soil
pressure against the upstream side of the dam and sliding block of soil. The available
resisting forces are derived from the water and passive soil pressure against the downstream
side of the dam and sliding block and the soil shear strength along the base of the sliding
block. The shear strength consists of the cohesion component, which is constant at a
given cross section, and the friction component, which is proportional to the vertical force
carried by the soil grains. This vertical effective stress force is equal to the weight of the
dam plus the water directly above the deck and foundation of the dam minus the hydrostatic
uplift and any vertical support provided by the steel sheet piles

Lake Water Above Dam


Water Against
Upstream Side
Structure Weight
Soil Weight
Water on Dam

Water on Extension
Water on Basin

Active Soil Force


Soil Weight

Water Against
Downstream side
Passive Soil Force

Soil Weight

Shearing Plane
Load in Sheet Piles
Spillway

Shear Strength
Uplift
Load in Sheet Piles
Uplift
Under Dam
Foundation
Under Basin
Extension
Stilling Basin

Figure 2
The stability with regard to sliding is evaluated by the sliding safety factor, which is
defined as the ratio of the ultimate resisting forces to the driving forces. When the safety
factor is less than 1.0, sliding is expected. The stability is different for different operating
conditions. Higher lake levels and higher uplift tend to reduce stability. Increased weight and
higher downstream water levels (tailwater) tend to increase stability. Some factors are
interdependent; for example, an increase in the tailwater level tends to increase the uplift,
reducing the shear strength, while increasing the resisting water force. The primary
assumptions used to construct the model and write the equations were as follows:
The dam is constructed on a natural layer of clay that ranges from about four feet to
more than 30 feet thick. The clays are generally weaker than the underlying sands
and deeper clays, so shearing generally takes place entirely within the shallow clays.
The exception occurs at certain locations and under certain conditions when high uplift
results in low effective stresses under the stilling basin so that the shear strength in the
underlying sand is lower than in the clay.
The shearing surface beneath the spillway is a horizontal plane that may be located at
any depth within the upper clay layer. (The potential shearing surfaces analyzed were
at the top, center, and bottom of the clay layer, and one located in the bottom of the
clay layer beneath the spillway and in the top of the sand beneath the stilling basin.)
In this analysis a horizontal shearing surface is judged to be a reasonable assumption

because the length of this surface is about five times the thickness of the clay layer.
Also, clay layers tend to be horizontal, and sliding would tend to follow the weakest
layer.
At any given cross section, the hydrostatic pressures beneath the spillway and the
stilling basin are constant between the lines of sheet piles, so internal horizontal water
forces balance for each wedge. The piezometric head of the pore water at any depth
in the clay beneath the spillway is equal to the head in the first sand layer below the
clay, and can be evaluated by the shallow piezometers installed in or immediately
below the clay layer. The uplift pressure varies with location and operational cases,
but will not be changed by the stabilization. The piezometric head in the first sand
layer beneath the stilling basin is assumed to be a fixed amount (one to four feet)
lower than that beneath the spillway. The pressure at the top of the clay, immediately
beneath the stilling basin, is considered equal to the water level in the basin due to the
weep hole system in the hearth slab.
A drainage system was to be constructed beneath the existing stilling basin floors
(hearth slabs). As a result, the piezometric elevation at the bottom of the existing slab
after stabilization is assumed equal to the invert elevation of the drain or the
downstream river level, whichever was higher. To calculate the uplift at shearing
surfaces within the clay, the head was assumed to vary linearly between the head in
the underlying sand layer and the head at the base of the slab. The pressure in the
sand layer was not assumed to be changed by installation of the drain system,
although it will probably be lowered in some cases.
The head loss due to seepage resistance between the top of the clay blanket
upstream of the spillways and the bottom edge of the upstream sheet pile cutoff was
assumed to be linear and its magnitude was evaluated by the pressures shown by the
deep piezometers near the spillway centerline.
Sliding was assumed to involve both the spillway and the stilling basin, and the soil
shear strength along the full length of the cross section is mobilized to resist sliding.
A passive soil wedge develops against the downstream end of the stilling basin, and
an active wedge develops at the upstream edge of the spillway. The Coulomb
equations for active and passive pressures for a soil with both cohesion and friction
are used to calculate these pressures. Triangular pressure diagrams for active and
passive soil forces are assumed.
Because the height and weight of the structure, the hydrostatic uplift, and the soil
conditions vary along the length of each spillway, the south spillway was divided into nine
zones and the north spillway into five zones. Design parameters were developed to permit
analyzing each zone separately. End resistance or 3-D effects were neglected, with the
intent that each zone would be provided with sufficient ballast or anchors to be stable on its
own, without support from adjacent zones or from the abutments.
The primary use of the stability analysis for Wesley Seale Dam was not to evaluate
"absolute" safety factors (FS), as would be done for original design, but to evaluate relative
safety factors to guide the modifications. The safety factor was assumed to have been 1.0
during some definable past condition, and a set of soil strength parameters associated with
this assumption were calculated. These strengths were then used to analyze the stability
after proposed modifications would be made. If, for example, the FS was calculated to be 1.5
for a specific proposed configuration, the ratio of resisting forces to driving forces would be at

least 1.5, since it was at least 1.0 under the critical past condition. Various undetermined
factors, such as arching within the structure and minor inaccuracies in the model, were
considered to be included in the calculated value of C, and assumed to affect the "before"
and "after" analyses about the same, reducing the importance of these inaccuracies.
The following criteria were used for the stabilization design:
A relative FS of 1.5 for normal operating conditions, calculated using a value of
cohesion (C) that produces a calculated FS of 1.0 for the critical past condition.
A relative FS of 1.3 for the empty basin case, all three flood cases, and the basin
maintenance condition in the south basin.
A sliding ratio (FS calculated assuming C=0) at least 1.3 times the value calculated for
the critical past condition.
Six operating cases were defined to be analyzed to determine ballast weight or anchor
force required to meet the stability criteria. The following operational cases were analyzed:
Normal Operations; (reservoir full and normal releases) with proposed stabilizing
modifications completed. The lake surface equals Elevation 94 feet msl, and the river
level equals Elevation 29 feet msl. The south spillway basin is full of water, and the
north basin is empty.
Plugged Relief Wells; Condition as described above, but with all relief wells blocked.
Basin Maintenance; (south stilling basin dewatered for inspection and maintenance).
Since the weight of water on the spillway foundation and basin slab contributes to
sliding resistance, the safety factor is reduced when the basin is emptied.
Light Flood; (passage of a 14,000 cfs inflow through the south spillway gates, raising
the water level in the river downstream to about Elevation 55 feet msl). This river level
was selected because it is sufficient to cover the relief well outlets and new basin slab
subdrain outlets but not high enough to create significant horizontal pressure against
the structure or to flood the north spillway stilling basin. The increased uplift generally
reduces stability; however, this is offset to some extent at the south spillway by the
increased water depth in the stilling basin during flood passage.
Moderate Flood; (passage of a 54,000 cfs flow through both spillways, raising the
water level in the river to about Elevation 64 feet msl). This level of discharge is as
about the highest that can be passed without the reservoir rising significantly above
Elevation 94 feet msl or the river completely inundating the south hearth wall. All the
south spillway gates and about one-half of the north spillway gates are open for a
reservoir elevation of 94 feet msl.
Severe Flood; (passage of a 138,000 cfs flow through both spillways, raising the water
level in the river to about Elevation 72 feet msl). This discharge was approximately
equal to the discharge from Hurricane Beulah, with the lake at Elevation 95 feet msl,
both basins at Elevation 73 feet msl, and all 60 gates fully open.
Sliding stability improvements require either an increase in the soil shear strength or
the addition of a horizontal resisting force. Adding weight (ballast) or reducing the hydrostatic
uplift increases the friction component of shear strength. Adding post-tensioned soil anchors
installed at an angle increases the friction as well as adding a resisting force. Preliminary
cost estimates indicated that the cost of each of these approaches was similar, resulting in

the Citys desire to design both alternatives to take full advantage of the competitive
construction market.

Stabilization Requirements
In the ballasting concept the amount of additional resistance is essentially the net
weight of the ballast times the tangent of the angle of internal friction of the foundation clays.
The added weight would be in the form of mass concrete placed between the buttresses of
the spillways and in the hearth. This added mass could affect the hydraulics of the spillway
discharge and would have to be tailored to minimize adverse effects. The final design
configurations were based on information gained in a hydraulic model study.
The anchor alternative involved the installation of 110- to 140-foot long post-tensioned
steel tendon anchors designed to provide a working force of 250 kips each. These anchors
were designed to be installed and grouted into bore holes inclined upstream at a 45-degree
angle through the buttresses, and the toe of each anchor was to be grouted into the dense
sand and hard clay below any possible shear plane. It was anticipated that spillway
settlement might necessitate re-tensioning the anchors periodically to maintain the required
force. The anchor heads were designed to permit re-tensioning and shimming, and load cells
were planned on each anchor to monitor for relaxation, creep, or failure due to corrosion.
The anchor alternate design included a minimum two-foot thick overlay of concrete which
would contribute to the stabilization, protect the spillway and stilling basin floors from
turbulence and cover the new hearth drains.
The addition of either ballast or anchors was anticipated to have an impact on the
structural members of the dam. Structural evaluations included manual calculations for some
reinforced concrete elements (such as the spillway deck panels), spreadsheets for foundation
reinforced concrete beam and slab capacities, and a computer model using finite element
analysis (STAAD III) to determine the soil-structure interaction taking place and resultant
moments. The spillway deck slabs, the bulkhead deck slabs, the buttress corbels, the
buttresses, and the foundation mat were checked for existing conditions as well as for the
changes in structural load due to the stabilization. The foundation mat was the only area of
significant concern with the stabilization to the dam.
The foundation mat was analyzed using three scenarios. One assumed that the
existing sheet piles offer no support to the spillway structure and the soil carries all the loads.
The second scenario assumed that the steel sheet piles are offering unyielding vertical
support to the structure and the soil reaction is greatest at the hinge between the piles. The
third scenario assumed that the sheet piles offer an intermediate degree of vertical support.
This was modeled using an increased modulus of subgrade reaction at the upstream beam.
A variation of the cases was analyzed assuming a variation in the soil along the axis of
the dam. Soils under the dam were modeled to represent a soft compressible soil under the
expansion buttress and a stiffer soil beneath the adjacent buttresses. The sheet piles at the
upstream end of the dam were assumed to provide support. This scenario appeared to be a
worst-case condition and was used as a basis for developing design parameters.
The proposed loading of ballast or anchors and ballast on the spillway structures
resulted in a predicted settlement of approximately one to four inches. This settlement would

decrease the top elevation of the spillway gates by the same amount, requiring extension of
the gates to allow the lake to fill to the normal pool elevation of 94.0 feet msl.
A summary of the ballast and anchor requirements is presented in Table 2.
Table 2
Design
Zone

Past
Safety
Factor
C=0.140

Cohesion
Used for
Design

Controlling
Case

Critical
Failure
Depth

Ballast
Weight
(klf)

Anchor
Alternative

S2

0.84

0.229

LT FLOOD

DEEP

131.1

Ballast
Weight
(klf)
43.6

Anchor
(klf)

S3

1.00

0.140

SHALLOW

103.9

45.3

10.0

S4

1.03

0.131

SHALLOW

98.6

47.0

9.0

S5

1.14

0.102

SHALLOW

114.9

48.7

9.5

S6

1.20

0.100

SHALLOW

100.0

50.5

9.0

S7

1.36

0.100

SHALLOW

49.3

52.2

0.0

S8

1.15

0.100

SHALLOW

78.5

53.3

3.5

S9

1.09

0.109

SHALLOW

116.6

47.3

11.5

N1

1.13

0.100

SHALLOW

106.9

43.0

17.0

N2

1.03

0.129

SHALLOW

117.7

43.0

20.6

N3/N4

1.12

0.105

SHALLOW

106.6

43.0

16.9

N5

1.07

0.120

NORMAL
OPS
NORMAL
OPS
SEV.
FLOOD
SEV.
FLOOD
SEV.
FLOOD
SEV.
FLOOD
SEV.
FLOOD
NORMAL
OPS
NORMAL
OPS
NORMAL
OPS
NORMAL
OPS

SHALLOW

109.2

43.0

17.6

12.7

Design of both the anchor and ballast stabilization concepts was completed, however,
after updating the cost estimates, it was concluded that the ballast concept would provide a
solution which would require less long term maintenance, at a comparable initial capital
investment, and therefore, the anchor alternative was eliminated.
The south spillway piezometric conditions revealed that artesian pressures exist from
Buttresses 8 to 34 under the mat foundation of the south spillway. At Buttress 8, the artesian
pressure head is about Elevation 61, nine feet above the hearth floor. From Buttress 34
north to Buttress 61 the piezometric pressure in the shallow sand layer under the mat
foundation drops to Elevation 43 feet msl, or some nine feet below the hearth floor. The

head in the deeper sand layers remains high, about Elevation 58 feet msl. The piezometers
on each side of the river downstream from the outlet canal stilling basin showed a head near
Elevation 41 feet msl, about 12 feet higher than the water level in the river. In evaluating
these findings it was concluded that the relatively low piezometric pressure at the north end
of the spillway should be further investigated during rehabilitation to determine if it might be
caused by an unknown concentrated flow of seepage. A review of the historical records at
the dam site revealed that on two separate occasions large voids under the chute slab had
been discovered and repaired. A sheet pile cutoff was added to the design to provide a
control for potential erosion resulting from groundwater exiting under the chute slab.

Stabilization Effort
The construction of the stabilization project began in July 1999. The estimated
construction cost was $25.0 million with a contract time of 30 months. The project was
completed ten months early in March 2001, at a cost of $18.2 million. See Figure 3 for a
typical section of the stabilized dam.

Figure 3
The added ballast was mass concrete, which was placed between the buttresses of
the spillways and on the hearth slab. The amount of ballast varies along the length of the
spillways based on the design zones. The North and South Spillways received a total of
32,755 cubic yards (62,791 tons) and 22,097 cubic yards (42,359 tons) of ballast,
respectively. In addition, approximately 15,671 cubic yards of reinforced concrete was
constructed to provide protection to the spillways during discharges.

The hearth basins act as splash pads for the water discharged through the spillway
gates. While the thin slabs (18 inches) were protected from spillway gate discharges by
tailwater covering the slabs, unless adequately vented, they were not protected from uplift
hydrostatic forces that may tend to float the basins. Uplift pressures beneath the basins were
relieved by new hearth drains. The drains were specified to be constructed on a 20-foot grid
in both spillways. Due to the high artesian pressures found in the south part of the South
Spillway, the drains south of Buttress 34 were specified to be installed prior to draining the
stilling basin. There are 330 drains in the north basin and 252 drains in the south basin.
Other remediation features include extension of the gates to account for the estimated
settlement and allow the lake to fill to the normal pool elevation of 94.0 feet msl following
construction. The original relief wells were cleaned and rehabilitated and extended to the top
of the new ballast. The investigation phase of the project involved the installation of
instruments to measure the conditions at the dam for design of the stabilization, as well as for
long-term monitoring of the dam. To expedite the monitoring and control of the dam,
electronic computer-based technology was added to remotely monitor critical instrumentation.
Water used by the City of Corpus Christi and its customers is released from Lake
Corpus Christi through the outlet works at the south end of the south spillway. The release
requirements vary between 70 and 150 cfs, and had to be maintained during the construction
period. In order to drain the south spillway, a diversion channel was constructed by removing
a section of the concrete hearth wall at the south end of the spillway and adding a cofferdam
across the spillway to divert the flow to the downstream side of the hearth wall, where it was
contained between the hearth end wall and a new higher access roadway. At the north end
of the hearth wall the flow was diverted into a new 10-foot wide open channel that terminated
some 715 feet downstream at the river bank. The discharge over the river bank was allowed
by grouting the existing riprap.
Since the stability of the south spillway is marginal if the stilling basin is drained, 28
temporary post-tensioned anchors were installed through the downstream toe of selected
south spillway buttresses. After installation of the anchors, the contractor proposed and was
allowed to place temporary sand ballast in the South Spillway to allow the basin to be drained
prior to the installation of the hearth drains south of Buttress 34. By working from the sand
base, the contractor was able to install the hearth drains very efficiently.
The geotechnical investigation in the existing South Spillway chute required
dewatering its stilling basin after constructing a cofferdam in the river channel. This draining
allowed all explorations to be performed in the dry. To prevent the empty stilling basin from
heaving, the groundwater was to be lowered by pumping from six new relief wells. Four of
the relief wells were to have gravity outlets to reduce uplift after construction. Once the basin
was pumped out and dewatered, an inspection of the basin slab and drain system was
performed. Three-inch diameter core holes were drilled at different levels to allow for
evaluation of any voids existing below the chute slab. Piezometers were installed to monitor
the existing piezometric pressures and their variations in the area of the chute prior to and
during the draining process.
The contractor proposed and received authorization for changes to the dewatering and
uplift relief plan. Trench drains were constructed outside of the canal training walls to assist
in lowering the groundwater level. The drains discharged through the training walls to
tailwater. A total of 16 shallow drains were installed across the chute slab at the water line
and were pumped for temporary de-watering. The sheet pile cutoff originally planned just

upstream of the south hearth weir wall was relocated downstream to between the two weirs.
Five shallow drains were installed upstream of the piling and tied into the trench drains
located alongside of the basin. A four-foot wide slot in the chute slab was saw cut and
removed at elevation 31 feet msl. A new vent drain system was installed in this slot and the
existing slab replaced. De-watering of the chute area revealed cracks and inconsistencies in
the slab. To rehabilitate the chute slab, the slab was overlaid with a new 6 to 24-inch thick
reinforced concrete slab and restrained by 124, 20-foot long, grouted soil anchors. Six new
deep drains were installed in the chute and basin to relieve uplift in the deep layers of sand.
The initial rehabilitation stability design did not include the probable maximum flood
loads because the PMF flood estimate for Wesley Seale Dam overtopped the embankment
by approximately nine feet. Late in 2000 during the latter stage of the ballast stabilization
construction, the City of Corpus Christi authorized a reevaluation of the PMF. The
reevaluation, which incorporated the effects of Choke Canyon Dam on the Nueces upstream
of Wesley Seale Dam, resulted in a PMF lake level of 109 feet msl, only three feet above the
embankment crest. The City directed the design and construction of a concrete parapet wall
on top of the dam to contain the PMF flood. The new parapet wall was constructed with a top
elevation of 109.5. With the completion of the parapet wall, the stability of the spillways and
embankments were reevaluated for the PMF flood. Both spillways have a sliding factor of
safety above 1.3 for the PMF loading.

Comments
In the 1991 to 1996 time frame, indications of distress in the spillway structures of
Wesley Seale Dam were documented in annual safety inspection reports. The true nature
and extent of the problems at Wesley Seale Dam were not obvious and, in fact, had not been
detected by previous safety inspections. It was due to the care and professional diligence of
the investigation team that the marginal safety factors were recognized and attended to in
time. Without this attention, and under the right set of circumstances, the dam could well
have failed. The City of Corpus Christi handled a very serious problem in an exemplary
manner and did an outstanding job of correcting what might otherwise have been a
disastrous situation. The City's cooperation with the Texas Natural Resources Conservation
Commission made it possible to deal with the problem quickly and effectively. This project is
an example of a complex technical problem, of critical significance to the public, and its
satisfactory resolution through the combined efforts of a progressive city staff, regulatory
agencies, professional engineering consultants and construction contractors. The dedicated
effort to the job not only avoided a disaster, but restored the dam to a safe and durable
condition.