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Article · July 1987



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Artist's impression ofthe completed Misicuni project.

The design of the Misicuni scheme in Bolivia

By H-E. Minor, I. D. Clarke and W. Riemer, Vice-President,* Project Manager* and Consultant Geologist**

T ender designs have recently been completed for the Misicuni multipurpose project, which will supply drinking and irrigation water to the Cochabamba

region of central Bolivia, as well as producing almost 500 GWh/year of hydroelectricity. Much of the project area is remote and at high altitude, with consequent problems of access and logistics, in particular for field investigations. This article defines the final concept of the scheme, describes a number of aspects of detailed design, and also mentions the optimization calculations. Largely as a result of the closer evaluation ofgeological conditions, a number of important changes had to be made to the project concept recommended in earlier studies, and the reasons for these changes are discussed in full.

The layout of the Misicuni multipurpose project is shown in Fig. 1. A fill dam near the village ofMisicuni will impound the inflows of the Titiri river at an altitude of almost 3800 m. The

21 km-long pressure tunnel will carry water southwards to a

power station in the Cochabamba valley, from where a 12 km water main will supply a treatment plant on the outskirts of Cochabamba, and canals will carry water to irrigation areas in the west and east of the city. Inflows into Misicuni reservoir will be supplemented by adduction tunnels, which will carry water from the rivers Caliente and Viscachas. The three catchments developed are sparsely populated, mountainous , and rise to above el. 5000 m. The area is remote, so access is difficult. Unsurfaced, circuitous tracks extend to near the headworks' sites, but driving times are long. The surge chamber site and tunnel alignments can only be reached on foot. Pre-feasibility studies of the Misicuni scheme were carried out in 1976 and a full feasibility study was completed in 1979. Review and optimization studies began in 1983 1 2 · 3 and on the basis of these final designs , tender documents were prepared.

* £ /ec cro watt En g in ee ring Serv ices lld. , CH- 8022 Zu rich , S witze rla nd; and, ** l -8 52 9 Ehn er!Redange. Luxemburg.

Definition of the project layout and structures

Prior to final design, earlier studies of the Misicuni project had to be reviewed and its optimal layout and dimensions defined. This review led to certain changes being proposed to the original layout, the reasons for which will be discussed next.

Misicuni dam

Previous studies identified and compared the alternative sites for Misicuni dam shown in Figs. 1 and 2. These were for a concrete arch in the Titiri gorge, 3 km north of Misicuni village, (site A) ,' and for an earthfill embankment at the

entrance of this gorge, about 700

The arch dam recommended in the feasibility report would have been 134 m-high, 265 m-long at crest level, and 14 m- thick at its base. An important factor in the comparison was the beliefthat material for the core of a fill dam could only be found

at considerable distance from the site. Fig. 2 shows the geology of sites A and B. The Titiri gorge at site A cuts through thinly-bedded, fine- grained, hard .quartzitic siltstones of Ordovician age. The structure of the gorge is defined by three sets of systematically orientated discontinuities:

• stratification of the siltstones, dipping upstream at about 5°;

• tension joints which strike across the valley and are sub-

vertical or dip steeply upstream (these are 1-3 m apart and open near the surface but tight and more widely spaced at depth); and,

• sub-vertical decompression joints, parallel to the valley, and at 2-5 m centres.

Several transverse and oblique faults cause deep depressions in the flanks of the gorge. At depth these faults are accompanied by thick clay mylonites, and similar material occurs systema- tically on the bedding planes. The decompression joints are generally open to about 30 m below the surface. Near the proposed crest level on the right flank, an extensive slide mass was identified. These conditions, and the major faults which cross the gorge, severely limit the portion ofthe gorge which can be considered for the arch dam .

m farther upstream, (site B).

Wate r Power & Dam Construction

J uly 1987


Following the feasibility study, additional investigations were undertaken. These included core drilling, extension of adits, a micro-seismic survey, and detailed mapping. Analysis· during review studies in 1983 of the data from these investi- gations, as well as a thorough inspection of site A, enabled a much-better understanding to be obtained of the implications of the morphological and geological features for the founda- tions of an arch. The conclusion was that conditions were much less favourable than had been assumed, for the following reasons:

• the extent and depth of the jointing system, and concern

about the effect ofimpounded water hydrating the dry clay and mylonite fill ofmany joints, together with serious doubts about

whether grouting could effect any real improvement of the abutments;

• the deep excavation in the gorge flanks necessary to keep the

thrust line below the fault depressions and zones ofdeteriorated


• concern that the discontinuity pattern, and in particular the general occurrence of mylonitic gouge on the bedding planes, would reduce shear resistance to unacceptable levels ; this problem, especially important for earthquake loading, could not be overcome by treating individual seams; •

• the necessary depth of excava-

tion, which implied problems of slope stability, especially in the slide area on the right flank; and,


measures needed, in particular deep

in the left wall of the gorge .

• extensive







principal faults


anticlinal ax is


axi s






Fig 1. Layout of the Misicuni scheme, showing geological fonnations at tunnel level and alternative alignments ofthe main tunnel.

These considerations raised the question of whether the thin con- crete arch was still the most econo- mical solution. In this respect, the limited budget for further site investigations which ruled out the in-situ rock mechanics testing needed to define the structural parameters for final calculation of the arch dam; was a further factor. A new general design and cost estimates for the arch dam were prepared, taking into account the latest interpretation oftopographical and geological conditions and site investigation results. The revised structure was 148 m high, 285 m long at crest level, and 23 m thick at its base. The estimated volume of excavation required was several times that determined in the earlier studies, on the basis of limited data available at that time, and the corresponding increase in the volume of concrete in the dam was about 70 per cent. For comparative purposes, designs were made and costed for an embankment dam at site B to im- pound a reservoir of the same volume. At this site the valley sides are inclined at about 30° and covered by colluvial deposits of 20-30 cm average depth. Bedrocks are Ordovician sediments (grey to grey-green, fine to very fine grained micaceous siltstones and slates) which are well stratified, thinly bedded and moderately weathered . In places they are overlain by


These sediments dip moderately up- stream, thus closing the Misicuni syncline which forms the wide basin ofthe reservoir area. Branches ofthe Misicuni fault, which follow the axis

strata, similar in nature .


Water Power & Dam Construction

Jilly 1987

of the syncline, extend northwards through the site. The three principal joint systems are: sub-vertical and parallel to the dam axis, sub-vertical and striking oblique!y to the valley, and inclined gently downstream and parallel to the dam axis. A potential sliding zone on the right bank extends to just below the proposed crest level and consists of loose blocks of random orientation. Aerial photographs revealed large areas of morainic material, · in particular in a lateral valley upstream of, and about 5 km from, the dam site. Preliminary surveys indicated that with treatment these deposits could provide core material for the dam, a conclusion confirmed by the subsequent programme of pit sampling and laboratory testing. For the dam shoulders, coarse alluvium taken from the thick deposits on the reservoir bed would be used. Revised cost estimates then showed the fill dam to be about 10 per cent cheaper than the arch in the gorge. This was mainly because of the much greater volume of foundation excavation and concrete :imposed at site A by the topographical and geological conditions. A further factor was the high cost ofexcavating and refilling the fault zones in the abutments of the arch with concrete. This result was obtained despite the higher

allowances for contingencies made for the fill dam, to allow for the lack of very detailed maps ofthe site, and remaining uncertainties concerning haul distances for construction materials.

It was then recommended that tender designs be prepared for the fill dam. Although, in its favour, the difference in construction costs was relatively small, other factors supporting this proposal were:

• a somewhat longer construction period for the arch, because

ofthe deep abutment excavation;

• the unresolved question ofthe stability ofthe arch abutments under seismic loading; and,

• the lower risk of construction difficulties and cost increases for the fill dam.

Site A

(arch dam)

Site B

(fill dam)

~~~*~i\tJN~f.~ slide _zones

--- faults


• -

axes of proposed dams

Fig 2. Simplified geological map ofsites A and Bon the river Titiri; the axes ofthe proposed arch andfill dams are indicated.

1800 m-long, would have descended at about 8 per cent to meet

the tunnel at km 8. Earlier geological reconnaissance investigations (photo- interpretation, limited mapping and some geophysical profiles) were not adequate for the final design. Unfortunately, more detailed investigations, in particular core drilling, were not possible because of the serious problems ofaccess, as well as a shortage of funds. The geological analysis had to rely on the projection to tunnel level of the results of comprehensive surface mapping of an area of about 100 km 2 , with a detailed litho-stratigraphic column serving as a basis for the complete geotechnical classification of the rock mass. This projection was used, with the classification data, to analyse various tunnel alignments. Differences in conditions between such alignments were quantified in terms of stability and

support requirements by applying empirical strength criteria and considering geotechnical rock mass quality and ambient stresses. Based on this analysis, an optimal alignment for the main tunnel was determined. This is somewhat farther to the east of, but no longer than, the original route. It avoids zones of weak ·rock and high ambient stress more effectively, and crosses the main discontinuities at more favourable angles. The shallow crossing of the Sunkhani fault is avoided, as the intake will be on the eastern shore of the reservoir. The tunnel on this new alignment will be 19.22 km long, concrete-lined to an internal diameter of2.6 m, and inclined from north to south at 0.44 per cent. Particular attention had to be given to the most suitable con- struction procedure for the tunnel, as the time needed to

The main low-pressure tunnel

The.principal component of the Misicuni project is the pressure tunnel between the reservoir in the Titiri valley and the surge chamber, high on the northern side ofthe Cochabamba valley (Fig. 1). This tunnel will be driven at considerable depth through the eastern flank of the Misicuni (or Uyuni) syncline, and will pass from the Titiri to the Rocha river basin. The formations .of the Misicuni syncline are principally fine- grained quartzitic sandstones, micaceous siltstones, mudstones, shales and slates ofOrdovician age. The axis ofthe syncline lies NW-SE; angles of dip of25°-50° towards NE were measured over the area surveyed for the tunnel. As originally proposed, the tunnel would have extended from the western shore of Misicuni reservoir and after 3 km would have passed just below the lateral faulted valley of the Sunkhani river. An intermediate adit for rail-borne traffic,

Water Power & Dam Construction

July 1987


complete it will determine the com- missioning date of the overall scheme. No practical tunnel align- .ment offers the possibility ofshort or free-draining intermediate adits. However, an adit from the upper Titiri to valley km 8, although long and inclined upwards from tunnel level, will be essential ifthe speci- fied construction period is to be met. The selected procedure is for ascending and descending headings, each about 8 km long, to be driven by TBMs in northerly and southerly directions respectively from the bottomoftheadit. At the same time, drill and blast excavation would pro- ceed from the southern portal at Calio. On completion ofexcavation,

a concrete lining will be placed in

four directions. Because of its slope, the 1200 m-long adit will be dimen- sioned for use by tyred vehicles, with trans-shipment from mucking trains taking place at the junction with the tunnel. Construction of the tunnel will

take 3.5 years, or at least one year less than would be required for conventional excavation. Given the limited information available on the geology along the tunnel alignment, excavation by TBM represents a certain calculated risk. However, it was possible from careful examination of outcrops to confirm that the strength ofthe formations to be drilled should notlimit the output of the machines, and clear indications exist of those zones where faults and other disturbances will be met, so that all necessary precautions can be taken to minimize difficulties. Evaluation of hydro-geological conditions indicated that the permeability of the sound formations to be crossed is about 10- 7 mis, and that particular infiltration will be limited to such fault zones. It was estimated that inflow of water will be within acceptable limits provided that adequate measures needed to deal with it are specified and, along the descending heading , adequate pumping capacity is available.

Fig 3. General layout ofthe proposedfill dam at site Bon the river Titiri, which will impound the Misicuni reservoir.

alternative surface penstock?

With regard to the first question, an attempt was made to classify the rock mass according to the method developed by Bieniawski 4 5 . With no drilling data, and only a few geophysical survey results, the assessment had to be based on detailed surface reconnaissance. This showed that, although the siltstones and slates are lithologically similar to those encountered elsewhere in the project area, their geotechnical condition is less favourable, because of their finer stratifica- tion, inclusions of mylonite and even organic shales, susceptibility to air-slaking, frequent faulting, and the complicated and variable lie of their beds. The formations could thus only be classified as fair to pooror, in zones of heavy fracturing with gouge filling, even as very poor. In such rock it was considered imprudent to assume that steel-lining of the pressure shaft could be dispensed with , or that the cavern would only need minimum rock support measures. Furthermore, almost all the tailrace tunnel would have had to be driven through weak, extensively mylonitic, Silurian shale. For possible surface penstocks a number of alignments were identified and surveyed. Limitations on location of the penstock were often the narrowness ofthe escarpment ridges, but especially the recent extensive, and in places still active sliding zones, affecting not only the overburden but also the underlying younger sediments. An alignment for the penstock was identified which generally avoided unstable areas, but the morphology of the upper portion of even this alignment, a narrow and unstable ridge, did not favour a surface penstock, because ofthe need for expensive foundation and stabilization works . A short inclined shaft and medium-pressure tunnel , both steel-lined, are thus proposed between the surge chamber

and the head of the penstock

Updated cost comparisons, which allowed for the additional works , for example the steel-lining required for the under- ground layout, showed the surface layout would be slightly less expensive. This solution was recommended for final design , in view of the following factors :

at el. 3340 m .

• its shorter construction period ;

• the








The high-pressure waterways

Between the surge chamber near Calio and the powerhouse, the steep northern escarpment of.the Cochabamba valley is formed by pronounced and often superficially unstable ridges separated by deep stream courses or quebradas. The underlying rocks are sandstones, siltstones and slates of Ordovician to Silurian age. Around Calio the formations are gently folded along east-west axes; at lower levels their predominant dip is 30°-60° ~owardss.and SE. Several faults, paraTiel to the valley, are filled with gouge. Extensive sJips and unstable zones characterize the flanks of the quebradas which, at the foot of the escarpment, have deposited wide and deep colluvial fans. Earlier comparative studiernfunderground and surface high pressure, systems were reviewed in the light of the latest available geological findings and cost data. These studies had· recommended the former solution, comprising: an 860 m-long unlined, inclined pressure shaft; a 2000 m-long unlined high- pressure tunnel; a power cavern; and, a 1230 m-long tailrace tunnel. Two main questions had to be addressed by the review:

• would the geological conditions permit the proposed unlined

power waterways, and a cavern with only limited rock bolting?

and ,

, _,


• could a suitable location be found on the escarpment for an


Water Power & Dam Construction

July 1987


investigations (especially deep drillings and a pilot adit) needed to evaluate the underground layout adequately; and,

• the greater uncertainty of extensive underground works.

The rather less favourable hydraulic characteristics of the selected solution will be discussed later.

Hydrology and optimal project dimensions

Principal data for the three catchment areas are given in Table

I. The hydrological pattern of all catchments is the same, with about 85 per cent of annual runoff occurring between December and March. For the selected layout, optimal dimensions were calculated by the normal procedure ofcomparing marginal construction costs with incremental benefits of power production, and the supply of irrigation and drinking water. To define the optimal height ofthe main dam, the operation ofMisicuni reservoir was simulated for a generated 50-year series of monthly flows for the Titiri river, to determine firm and secondary output, and taking into account diverted inflows from Putucuni and Viscachas. Operation of these adductions was also examined using daily flows to assess the benefits gained by providing inter-seasonal storage at the intakes. The costs of the higher dams required were not found to be justified by the value of the secondary energy gained. Run-of-river intakes will therefore be provided at the two sites. Optimal diameters of the power waterways were calculated by considering the energy value of friction losses, subject to minimum diameters dictated by construction requirements. Nevertheless, in selecting certain dimensions (for instance the penstock diameter) it was decided that the main consideration should be to reduce the initial investment cost to a minimum, rather than the adoption of a purely economic optimum.

Final design of the principal structures

The proposed embankment dam at site Bis shown in Fig. 3, and its main dimensions and characteristics are given in Table II. Site investigations for the final design had to be limited, and consisted of three adits, three drillings, geophysical profiling and a large number oftest pits, both at the site itself and in possible borrow areas. A new I : I000 map of the dam site was surveyed. The optimal position of the dam axis with respect to fill volume and foundation conditions was determined using an interactive computer design pro.gram. Static stability was assessed by limiting analyses using the method of slices. For the geotechnical parameters giveri, safety factors of 1.4-1.6 were obtained. Dynamic stability was calculated by the procedure of Makdisi and Seed 6 7 Based on regional tectonic and statistical analyses, ground accelerations of 0. 22 g and 0. 30 g were adopted for the design and maximum credible earthquakes respectively. These low values by Andean standards result from the considerable distance of the project area from the more active western flank of the Cordillera. Assuming a seismic event of magnitude 6.5, the maximum dam crest deformations for these accelerations wouldbe0.2 mand0.5 mrespectively. Because the stability analyses had to be made before the laboratory tests were complete, rather conservative material parameters were assumed, but these will be reviewed before and during construction. Crest deformation under severe earthquake loading, while acceptable, is such that strict conditions have been specified for the material in the upper third of the embankment.

Table I-Data for the three·catchment areas





Gauge location




Catchment Qon2)




Years of records




Average flow (m3/s)




10 000 year flood (m3/s)




Table II-Main features of the site B embankment dam

Maximum height/crest length (m)



Total volume (106 m3)


Core material (treated and selected silt and clay gravel of morainic origin, or colluvial clay silt) volume (103 m3)

0' = 33°, c' = 0-30 kN/m2, k = 2 - 5 x 10-9m/s


Material in dam shoulders (coarse grained, alluvial sandy gravel) volume (103m3)


50 percent> 7.5 cm, 0 = 35-42°, c' = 0,



= 10- 4 mis

Filter and transition material (selected and washed morainic or alluvial material) volume (103 m3) 0' = 39°, k = l0-7 - 10-4 mis


Average slopes (upstream/downstream)



Table III-Main shafts and tunnels








Low pressure tunnel

19 200

0.44 per cent 2.60/2.20*/l.80*

Inclined-pressure shaft


80 per cent


Medium-pressure tunnel



per cent


Steel oonstock

2564 55.1-5.7 oer cent


*very short, steel-lined sections near the base of the surge chamber.

During construction the Titiri will be diverted through the left dam abutment by a single, concrete-lined tunnel of 4 m internal diameter, dimensioned for a 100-year flood of 135 m 3 /s. This tunnel will later serve as a low-level outlet, with conversion taking place during the third, final dry season. From just upstream of the dam axis, the invert lining will incorporate twin concrete pipes able to pass 2 m 3 /s, a discharge well above the monthly average, recorded between May and October. The river flow will be passed through these pipes while equipment is installed in the gate chamber, and final concreting is carried out of the outlet channel in the downstream half of the tunnel; thereafter they will be plugged. The main spillway, on the left abutment, will consist of a lateral, ungated weir, an inclined chute and a ski-jump above the outlet structure of the low-level outlet tunnel. It is

dimensioned to pass a 10 000 year

freeboard above maximum wave level. Peak inflows and · outflows are 450 and 280 m 3 /s respectively. The corresponding values for the p.m .f. for which wave height is

included in the freeboard allowance, are 800 and 638 m 3 /s. The principal dimensions ofthe main shafts and tunnels are shown in Table III. The intake structure of the main tunnel will have a vertical gate shaft, 65 m deep, with service and maintenance (emergency) gates, and a horizontal inlet tunnel. The excavated shaft was preferred to a free-standing tower because of its lower vulnerability to dynamic loading, and easier access. Rack clearing equipment is not provide~. The surge chamber is a vertical shaft of 2. 6 m diameter with a steel-lined connection to the low-pressure tunnel. An expansion chamber, 15 min diameter and ·3 m deep, will be sited on the small plateau near the village of Calio. The emergency butterfly valve will be installed in a small

flood, with 1.5 m

Water Power & Dam Construction

July 1987



cavern adjacent to the surge chamber. An alternative spherical valve at the head of the penstock w~s stu~ied, but i.ts higher cost was considered to . outweigh its certam advantages in the event of emptying or failure of the

. The conventional reinforced concrete power stat10n will

MVA), horizontal axis ,

two-jet Pelton turbines . These will run at 600 rev/min and

have a specific speed of 16.5. The adjacent compensati~g pond will be formed by earthfill dykes and lmed ~1th asphaltic-concrete. Its capacity will be 50 000 m 3 , sufficient in the initial years for daily regulation of releases to

for later

Cochabamba waterworks , but allowance is made

be equipped with three 40 MW (45



construction of a second basin when irrigation and drinking water requirements increase. Calculations of transient hydraulic conditions were made .

for the normal sequences of load rejection and turbine run- up, considering jet closure times, after deflection , of 30 to 120 s, and pauses of 4, 8 or 20 min between run-up of individual units in 30 s. The length of the selected surface layout is such that the

and the turbine is 4 .3

times that of the head (compared with a ratio of 3.1:1 for the

previously proposed underground lay?ut) . Also the ne~d ~o reduce capital costs means that the maximum flow velocity m the penstock is about 7 mis . Calculations were then made to check turbine behaviour in the event of sudden variations in system load. These showed that for an instantaneous load decrease or increase of 10 MW, and a maximum allowable variation of ±3 Hz from system frequency (50 Hz), normal turbine speed would be regained within a period of 40-50 s (this for a unit moment of inertia of 240 tm 2 and with the powerplant operating in isolation) . Further ca.lculations showed that stability was predominantly a function of the generators' self-regulating capacity , and only to a lesser extent of the diameters of the penstock and surge-chamber; this means, increasing these diameters would result in a considerable cost increase but only bring a marginal improvement in stability characteristics.

distance between the surge chamber



The Cochabamba region is an important centre of economic activity . Assured supplies of water for domestic and industrial consumption, and also for irrigation, are essential if the region's potential is to be developed in the future, and a contribution made to reducing Bolivia' s present over- dependence on uncompetitive extractive industries Misicuni project can supply this water as well as prov1dmg valuable hydroelectricity for the republic's interconnected generation network. The final design ofthe project was associated with the need to make considerable modifications to the concept defined in earlier studies. These changes were the result not only of more detailed examinations of topographic and, particularly, • geological conditions, but also the revision and updating of construction costs estimates. They again illustrate the importance, from the earliest stages of project identification and study, of adequate site investigations. It is to be hoped that with theend ofBolivia's present severe economic recession, a start can be made on the construction of this ambitious and important development project. o




" Proyecto Misicuni - Informe de Revision ,"

Electfowatt Ing.


Consultores SA, July 1985.


' ' Informe de Proyecto Basico'' , Electrowatt Ing . Consultores SA ,

January 1984.


" Proyecto Misicuni -

Informe de Optimizacion" Electrowatt Ing .

Consultores SA, June 1984.



T. ' ' Geomechanical Classification of Rock Masses and

its Application in Tunnelling'' , Proceedings, 3rd Int. Congress on Rock Mechanics, ISRM , Denver, Colorado, USA; Vol. llA 1974.


BIENIAWSKI Z. T. " Rock Mass Classification in Rock Engineering ", Proc. Symp. on Exploration for Rock Engineering, Johannesburg , Vol. I; 1976.

6 . MAKADISI , F . I. AND SEED, H. B. , " Simplified Procedure for Estimating Dam and Embankment Earthquake-induced Deforma-

tions " . Journal ofthe Geotechnical Engineering Division, ASCE, Vol.

104 (GT7) ; 1978.








" Simplified Procedure for


Embankment Response' ' . Journal of the Geotechnical

Engineering Division , ASCE, Vol. 105 (GTl2); 1979.

View up the Titiri valley into the proposed reservoir area. Site B, ofthe embankment dam, is in the centreforeground. The flat-lying beds in the left background mark the axis of the Uyuni syncline. The sliding area high on the dam abutment can be seen above the road near the left edge of the photograph .


Water Power & Dam Construction

J uly 1987