< All Topics

Building/sealing earth dams


Building and sealing earthen dams is a vital aspect of water management in farming and agriculture. Earthen dams are constructed using soil, clay, and other materials to store water for irrigation, livestock, and various agricultural needs. Here are several practical methods to build and seal earthen dams:

1. Site Selection and Survey: Choose an appropriate site for the earthen dam that allows for maximum water storage and minimal seepage. Conduct a survey to understand the topography and soil composition, ensuring the dam is built on stable ground.

2. Clearing and Leveling: Clear the area of vegetation, rocks, and debris. Level the ground to create a uniform base for the dam wall, which helps distribute the pressure of stored water evenly.

3. Digging and Compacting: Dig the dam with a bulldozer or tractor. A cheaper more environment friendly and traditional option is to use donkeys and a dam pan. Compact the soil at the foundation of the dam to minimize seepage. This is achieved by using heavy machinery or tractors to roll and compress the soil, making it more impermeable.

4. Core and Blanket: To enhance the dam’s sealing capabilities, construct a clay core within the dam wall. The clay core acts as a barrier to prevent water from seeping through the dam. Additionally, a layer of impervious material, known as a blanket, can be placed on the downstream side of the dam for further protection.

5. Zoning and Water Distribution: Design the dam with different zones to accommodate varying water levels. The main storage area should be deeper and wider, while the upper part, known as the freeboard, acts as a buffer for overflow during heavy rain.

6. Contouring and Terracing: Utilize contouring and terracing techniques to minimize soil erosion and facilitate water runoff. By following the natural contours of the land, you can effectively harvest and direct rainwater to the dam.

7. Outlet Structure: Install an outlet structure, such as a pipe or culvert, to control water release from the dam. This structure helps regulate water flow, preventing erosion and overtopping during heavy rainfall.

8. Vegetation and Riprap: Plant vegetation, such as grass or shrubs, on the dam’s embankment to stabilize the soil and reduce erosion. Additionally, use riprap (large stones) on the downstream slope to prevent erosion caused by water overflow.

9. Compaction and Maintenance: Regularly inspect and maintain the dam to ensure its integrity. Compacting the dam walls periodically can help prevent cracks and leaks.

10. Safety Measures: Implement appropriate safety measures, such as fencing or warning signs, to prevent accidental falls or unauthorized access to the dam.

Remember, constructing earthen dams requires expertise, and it’s essential to involve skilled professionals and follow local regulations and guidelines to ensure a safe and effective water storage solution for farming and agriculture.

Related links:

Here’s a very detailed series of articles explaining everything you need to know about earth dams in Southern Africa:


Table of Contents