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Subsurface dams in water resource management

Subsurface dams in water resource management - methods for assessment and location

Published Mar 03, 2016

Time: Thu 2016-03-03 14.00

Location: Sal F3, Lindstedtsvägen 26, KTH, Stockholm

Subject area: Land and Water Resources Engineering

Doctoral student: Imran Ali Jamali

Opponent: Professor Stephen Foster, University College London, UK

Supervisors: Professor Bo Olofsson (main supervisor) and Ulla Mörtberg (co-supervisor)

The research project was hosted by the Division of Land and Water Resources Engineering , SEED Department, KTH. A link to the dissertation can be found here . Please also visit the project website .


Natural groundwater storage can be improved by constructing a subsurface barrier that is a subsurface dam, in order to capture the subsurface flows and raise the groundwater levels (GWLs) in the sediment layers. Subsurface dams are preferable to surface dams because of lower evaporation, higher functionality, lower cost of construction, lessened risk for contamination and the possibility of utilizing land over the dam. Therefore subsurface dams constitute an affordable and effective method for the sustainable development and management of groundwater resources. The aim of this research project was to develop and test methods for the assessment and location of subsurface dams in water resources management. From previous experiences it has been established that locating suitable sites for construction of subsurface dams plays an important role in the overall success of these dams. Therefore, in order to locate suitable sites, two approaches were followed. The first was the Boolean approach using topographical, geological and landcover data in a geographic information system (GIS) environment for a previously glaciated terrain near Stockholm.

The results of the Boolean approach were complemented by a groundwater balance model and a topographic wetness index (TWI). The second approach involved spatial multi-criteria analysis (SMCA) applied to a region with different geological and hydrological conditions. SMCA was applied in Northern Pakistan using factors such as topography, geology, landcover, soil thickness and TWI. Two weighting techniques, the analytic hierarchy process (AHP) and the factor interaction method (FIM), were employed and compared. The Factor removal technique was employed to assess the sensitivity of the model for each factor. Aquifer thickness is an important factor while planning subsurface dams and data regarding the soil thickness is often not available at larger scale. Therefore a simplified regolith model (SRM) was developed for estimating the regolith thickness in previously glaciated terrain with a high frequency of rock outcrops, based on a digital elevation model (DEM) and an optimized outcrop search algorithm. In order to analyse the dynamics of the groundwater flow, a transient 3D groundwater flow model was developed for a subsurface dam.

Methods applied to locate suitable sites for the construction of subsurface dams showed some promising results and need to be applied and tested in areas with different hydrological and geological conditions. The Boolean approach is a simple method that could be used during early planning stages for locating suitable sites for the construction of subsurface dams. The SMCA framework enabled the integration of knowledge for decision making, where the weights had a more significant influence on the results than the choice of the weighting method. AHP was considered to be the more robust model for assigning weights in this study. The factor removal technique showed that the modeling results were least sensitive to soil depth and most sensitive to land cover for the construction of subsurface dams. SRM showed reasonable results and could be used in engineering projects prior to detailed field investigations in formally glaciated terrain when borehole data is not available. The groundwater flow modelling results helped to develop some sustainable pumping scenarios to demonstrate the benefits of the subsurface dam. Groundwater flow model results also facilitated the selection of a suitable site for placing a subsurface dam in order to maximize the groundwater storage upstream. It was concluded in this project that the subsurface dams could sustainably be used to mitigate the water supply issues in formerly glaciated humid terrain such as in Sweden and dry climatic areas such as in Pakistan. Moreover, subsurface dams can play an important role in water resources management in coastal areas of formerly glaciated terrain, where saltwater intrusion is a rising environmental issue. Also in dry climatic areas like in Pakistan, methods such as SMCA could make the planning step more robust before the actual construction of dams. Themethods and findings presented in this thesis can be considered to be one tentative step of scientific contribution for better analysis, assessment and the location of subsurface dams.

Belongs to: Land and Water Resources Engineering
Last changed: Mar 03, 2016