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Dam stability concerns follow Colombia hydroelectric landslides

Landslides at the Hidroituango project in Colombia have caused water levels impounded to rise raising fears that the embankment dam could be overtopped and fail.

The 225m high dam is being built across the Cauca River near Ituango but recent slope failures have blocked a river diversion tunnel that were constructed to allow the dam to be built.

Dam owner Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) is reported to have attempted to unblock two lower diversion tunnels that were used earlier in the project but these have failed. Attempts to drain the reservoir through the power house have resulted in downstream flooding.

Around 7,000 people have been evacuated over fears the dam could collapse and EPM is prioritizing completion of the crest of dam in order to allow the spillways to be used to control the flow.

According to landslide specialist Dave Petley, who is also pro-vice-chancellor (research and innovation) at University of Sheffield, landslide risks are not being adequately managed on a number of large hydroelectric schemes. “This would appear to be yet another example,” he said.

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