Water flow through tailings dams
Water levels in tailings dams are generally lower than those of standard earth dams. Previously, other authors have shown that embankment geometry and variation in permeability can be responsible for a concave upwards steady state seepage line. These factors are investigated in greater detail using a finite element program to model flow in the saturated portion of the embankment. It is shown that the angle of the upstream slope only has an appreciable effect on the form of the seepage line if the pond is close to the downstream face of the dam. An increasing permeability in the direction of flow and seepage path length are responsible for reducing the height of the seepage line. This effect is demonstrated for both a continuous variation of permeability and a step jump in permeability between the tailings deposit and the dam. Anisotropy of tailings and dam permeability is also investigated. Transient analyses of saturated flow are performed for tailings dams constructed of dry compacted waste. For this case, the seepage line is straight for a constant pond level, and concave upwards for a rising pond and a low dam permeability. The simple computer model also predicts that for a constantly rising pond level, the seepage line advances at a constant rate dependent on the rate of pond rise, and the material properties of the dam. A fully automatic finite element program has been written, combining an adaptive mesh regeneration algorithm and a variable mesh technique. The program is shown to provide both an accurate and precise solution of the free surface problem. A method of automatically generating "square" flow nets by post-processing the finite element data is presented for the first time. Flow nets provide a visual proof of the correctness of the computer model and are a useful aid to other workers.