Effect of Drain Pipes on Uplift Force and Exit Hydraulic Gradient and the Design of Gravity Dams Using the Finite Element Method


The effects of diameter and location of drain pipes on the uplift force and exit hydraulic gradient for a gravity dam are investigated. A numerical model of a gravity dam is simulated using the finite element method. The results indicate that drain pipes under a gravity dam reduce the uplift force and exit hydraulic gradient. The optimal location of the drain pipe with respect to reducing uplift force is 0.25 L (where L is the dam width) from the dam heel, and is 0.75 L with respect to the exit hydraulic gradient. In addition, with increasing drain depth, the uplift force first decreases and then increases. The drain pipe diameter has little effect on uplift force and exit hydraulic gradient and thus its selection should depend on other considerations. When the drain pipe is located at its optimum location with respect to minimizing the uplift force, the volume of dam materials is reduced ~ 30–50%.

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Aquifer thickness (m)


The width of dam crest (m)


The depth of pervious layer (m)


Drain diameter (m)


Gravity acceleration (m/s2)


Water head (m)

Kx, Ky, Kz :

Hydraulic conductivity of porous medium along X, Y, Z


Height of upstream water (m)

Hdam :

Dam height (m)


Width of dam (m)


Discharge per unit length of dam (m2/s)


Time (s)


Walls distance (m)


Dam volume (m3)

Xi :

Longitudinal position of drains

Yi :

Depth of drains

s :

Specific density of concrete (2.4 ton/m3) and

w :

Specific density of water (1 ton/m3


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This paper is the outcome of a research project supported by the University of Tabriz research affairs office.

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Correspondence to Farzin Salmasi.

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Aghdam, A.T., Salmasi, F., Abraham, J. et al. Effect of Drain Pipes on Uplift Force and Exit Hydraulic Gradient and the Design of Gravity Dams Using the Finite Element Method. Geotech Geol Eng (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10706-021-01699-x

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  • Gravity dam
  • Uplift force
  • Drain pipe
  • Exit hydraulic gradient
  • Finite elements method