Auburn Dam

available by the

The Auburn Dam would be the largest concrete arched dam in the world. It was a project of the Bureau of Reclamation. The purpose of this dam was hydroelectricity production, recreation, water supply and most importantly flood control of the Sacramento valley. The dam would have:

Structural height: 800ft

Crest length: 4000ft

Concrete volume: 6.5 million cubic yards

In 1965, the project received the Congress’s Authorization and geologic and other investigations began and finally suggested the arch concrete dam type. With the yellow arrow, you can see the flip bucket spillway at the left abutment of the dam. Also you can see the foundation of the  left abutment of the dam.

The dam is located in the western foothill metamorphic belt of the Sierra Nevada and the area consists mainly of amphibolite. Serpentine can be identified in faults.  There is also a contact metamorphic sequence due to the intrusion episode of the Sierra Nevada batholith.

The 1971 San Fernando earthquake and the 1975 Oroville Earthquake had initiated more extensive geotechnical investigations. As a result of these investigations, a fault, which was part of the Foothill fault system, was identified and for that reason the design has changed to a curved gravity dam. 

The construction stopped because the scenario of failures increased the public awareness and stopped the project. A failure of this dam would cause also the failure of the Folsom dam and would finally flood the city of Sacramento. Even though, this scenario was not so possible, the probability of the existent truncated fault to cause a movement of 8-12inches could not be discounted.

For that reason, in 1975, the construction of the dam stopped. 

With the red arrow is indicated the embankment. The embankment was overtopped during a flood for which the bypass tunnel was not designed for. . The tunnel, since then, has been leading the waters through the mountain. This tunnel was designed probably for a 20-year flood, and since so many years passed, the fact that it finally failed once should not be considered a failure.

Photo of the bypass tunnel.

Photo of the foundation of the right abutment of Auburn Dam



Leaflet of the Bureau of Reclamation Mid Pacific region about the Auburn-Folsom Unit and information collected during the field trip in the Sierra Nevada, as part of the "Engineering Geology" course curriculum, instructed by Professor N. Sitar, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of California at Berkeley.


Want to be informed of updates for free?


back to The Virtual Geoengineer!

back to the Virtual Hydraulic Engineer!

* Please refer to the site when you use this material *