DEWATERING – CONTROL OF GROUNDWATER , Lecture notes for Construction

DEWATERING – CONTROL OF GROUNDWATER , Lecture notes for Construction

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Construction of buildings, powerhouses, dams, locks and many other structures requires excavation below the water table into water-bearing soils. Such excavations require lowering the water table below the slopes and bo...
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9. DEWATERING – CONTROL OF GROUNDWATER Construction of buildings, powerhouses, dams, locks and many other structures requires

excavation below the water table into water-bearing soils. Such excavations require lowering

the water table below the slopes and bottom of the excavation to prevent raveling or sloughing

of the slope and to ensure dry, firm working conditions for construction operations.

Groundwater can be controlled by means of one or more types of dewatering systems

appropriate to the size and depth of the excavation, geological conditions, and characteristics

of the soil.

Construction sites are dewatered for the following purposes:

1- To provide suitable working surface of the bottom of the excavation.

2- To stabilize the banks of the excavation thus avoiding the hazards of slides and


3- To prevent disturbance of the soil at the bottom of excavation caused by boils or

piping. Such disturbances may reduce the bearing power of the soil.

Lowering the water table can also be utilized to increase the effective weight of the soil and

consolidate the soil layers. Reducing lateral loads on sheeting and bracing is another way of


A number of methods are available for controlling the inflow of water into an excavation; the

choice of method will depend on the nature and permeability of the ground, the extent of the

area to be dewatered, the depth of the water table below ground level and the amount by

which it has to be lowered, the proposed methods of excavation and ground support, the

proximity of existing structures, the proximity of water courses etc.


The available methods of groundwater control fall into the following basic groups:

1. Surface water control like ditches, training walls, embankments. Simple methods of

diverting surface water, open excavations. Simple pumping equipment.

2. Gravity drainage. Relatively impermeable soils. Open excavations especially on

sloping sites. Simple pumping equipment.

3. Sump pumping (see below)

4. Wellpoint systems with suction pumps. (See below)

5. Shallow (bored) wells with pumps. (See below)

6. Deep (bored) wells with pumps. (See below).

7. Eductor system (See below)

8. Drainage galleries. Removal of large quantities of water for dam abutments, cut-offs,

landslides etc. Large quantities of water can be drained into gallery (small diameter

tunnel) and disposed of by conventional large – scale pumps.

9. Electro-osmosis. Used in low permeability soils (silts, silty clays, some peats) when

no other method is suitable. Direct current electricity is applied from anodes (steel

rods) to cathodes (well-points, i.e. small diameter filter wells)

Exclusion methods; (not covered in this note)

1. Ground freezing (ammonium brine refrigeration or liquid nitrogen refrigeration). All

types of saturated soils.

2. Slurry trench cut-off walls with bentonite or native clay and Diaphragm concrete

walls. All soils. Curtain walls around excavations with flat buckets.

3. Impervious soil barrier. All soils. Relatively shallow applications (5-6m max.). Back-

hoes form the clay filled barriers some distance from the excavation boundaries.

4. Sheet piling. All soils except soils with large boulders.

5. Secant (interlocked) piling or tangent piling with grouting in between. All soils except


6. Compressed air. All types of saturated soils and rock. Applications in tunnels, shafts

and caissons.

7. Grouted cut-offs (jet grouting, cementatious grouts, chemical grouts etc.)


9.1.Sumps and sump pumping

A sump is merely a hole in the ground from which water is being pumped for the purpose of

removing water from the adjoining area (Fig 9.1). They are used with ditches leading to them

in large excavations. Up to maximum of 8m below pump installation level; for greater depths

a submersible pump is required. Shallow slopes may be required for unsupported excavations

in silts and fine sands. Gravels and coarse sands are more suitable. Fines may be easily

removed from ground and soils containing large percent of fines are not suitable. If there are

existing foundations in the vicinity pumping may cause settlement of these foundations.

Subsidence of adjacent ground and sloughing of the lower part of a slope (sloped pits) may

occur. The sump should be preferably lined with a filter material which has grain size

gradations in compatible with the filter rules. For prolonged pumping the sump should be

prepared by first driving sheeting around the sump area for the full depth of the sump and

installing a cage inside the sump made of wire mesh with internal strutting or a perforating

pipe filling the filter material in the space outside the cage and at the bottom of the cage and

withdrawing the sheeting. Two simple sumping details are shown in Figures 2 and 3.


9.2.Wellpoint systems

A wellpoint is 5.0-7.5 cm diameter metal or plastic pipe 60 cm – 120 cm long which is

perforated and covered with a screen. The lower end of the pipe has a driving head with

water holes for jetting (Fig 9.4.a,b). Wellpoints are connected to 5.0-7.5 cm diameter pipes

known as riser pipes and are inserted into the ground by driving or jetting. The upper ends of

the riser pipes lead to a header pipe which, in turn, connected to a pump. The ground water is

drawn by the pump into the wellpoints through the header pipe and discharged (Fig 9.5). The

wellpoints are usually installed with 0.75m – 3m spacing (See Table 1). This type of

dewatering system is effective in soils constituted primarily of sand fraction or other soil

containing seams of such materials. In gravels spacing required may be too close and

impracticable. In clays it is also not used because it is too slow. In silts and silt – clay

mixtures the use of well points are aided by upper (0.60m – 0.90m long) compacted clay seals

and sand-filtered boreholes (20cm – 60cm diameter). Upper clay seals help to maintain

higher suction (vacuum) pressures and sand filters increase the amount of discharge. Filtered

boreholes are also functional in layered soil profiles (Figures 9.6.a,b,c,d,e)



Table 9.1 Typical spacings for some common soil types and the

approximate time required for effective drawdown

Soil Typical Spacing (m) Time (days)

Silty sand 1.5-2 7-21(Could be longer)

Clean fine to coarse sand 1.0-1.5 3-10

and sandy gravel

Fine to coarse gravel 0.5-1.0 1-2

The header pipe (15-30 cm diameter, connecting all wellpoints) is connected to a vacuum

(Suction assisted self – priming centrifugal or piston) pump. The wellpoints can lower a water

level to a maximum of 5.5 m below the centerline of the header pipe. In silty fine sands this

limit is 3-4 m. Multiple stage system of wellpoints are used for lowering water level to a

greater depth. Two or more tiers (stages) are used. (Fig 9.7). More pumps are needed and due

to the berms required the excavation width becomes wider. A single wellpoint handles

between 4 and 0.6 m3/hr depending on soil type. For a 120 m length (40 at 3 m centers) flow

is therefore between 160 and 24 m3/hr.

Nomograms for selecting preliminary wellpoint spacing in clean uniform sand and gravel, and

stratified clean sand and gravel are shown in Figures 9.8 and 9.9.



Horizontal wellpoints are used mainly for pipeline water. They consist of perforated pipes

laid horizontally in a trench and connected to a suitable pump.

9.3.Shallow Wells

Shallow wells comprise surface pumps which draw water through suction pipes installed in

bored wells drilled by the most appropriate well drilling and or bored piling equipment. The

limiting depth to which this method is employed is about 8 m. Because wells are prebored,

this method is used when hard or variable soil conditions preclude the use of a wellpoint

system. These wells are used in very permeable soils when wellpointing would be expensive

and often at inconveniently close centers. The shallow well can be used to extract large

quantities of water from a single hole. On congested sites use of smaller number dewatering

points is preferred (no hiderance to construction operations) hence shallow wells may be

preferred to wellpoints. Since the initial cost of installation is more compared to wellpoints it

is preferred in cases where dewatering lasts several months or more. Another field of

application is the silty soils where correct filtering is important.

9.4.Deep Wells

When water has to be extracted from depths greater than 8 m and it is not feasible to lower the

type of pump and suction piping used in shallow wells to gain a few extra meters of depth the

deep wells are such and submersible pumps installed within them. A cased borehole can be

sunk using well drilling or bored piling rigs to a depth lower than the required dewatered

level. The diameter will be 150 – 200 mm larger then the well inner casing, which in turn is

sized to accept the submersible pump. The inner well casing has a perforated screen over the

depth requiring dewatering and terminates below in 1 m of unperforated pipe which may

serve as a sump for any material which passes the filter. After the slotted PVC or metal well

screen (casing) has been installed it is surrounded by backfill over the unperforated pipe

length and with graded filter material over the perforated length as the outer casing

progressively withdrawn (Fig 9.10). As with the shallow wells the initial pumping may

involve twice the volumes when equilibrium is achieved.


Deep well systems are of use in gravels to silty fine sands and in water bearing rocks. They

are priority or use with deep excavations and where artesian water is present below an

impermeable stratum. If this type of installation is to be designed economically the ground

permeability must be assessed from full scale pumping tests. Because of their depth and the

usually longer pumping period these installations are more likely to cause settlement of

nearby structures, and the use of recharge methods may have to be considered.

9.5.Eductor System

This system also known as the ‘jet eductor system’ or ‘ejector system’ or ‘eductor wellpoint

system’ is similar to the wellpoint system. Instead of employing a vacuum to draw water to

the wellpoints, the eductor system uses high pressure water and riser units, each about 30-40

mm in diameter. A high pressure supply main feeds water through a venturi tube immediately

above the perforated well screen, creating a reduction in pressure which draws water through

the large diameter rise pipe. The high pressure main feeds off the return water. The advantage

of the eductor system is that in operating many wellpoints from a single pump station, the

water table can be lowered in one stage from depths of 10-45 m. This method becomes

economically competitive at depth in soils of low permeability.

Tentative economic ranges for groundwater lowering methods are shown in Fig 9.11.


9.6.EXAMPLE – SHALLOW WELLS Consider the need to lower the water table for the construction of a 7 m deep basement, 80 m

by 50 m at its base. The soil profile is shown below.

Drawdown to at least +69.0 m at the centre of excavation required which is 7 m minimum.

This will require a number of wells surrounding the proposed basement area, the yield


(discharge) from which may be computed assuming a single well with an equivalent radius rs.

This approach is known as “big well” approximate analysis. Another approach is to

superpose the drawdowns due to several wells at the centre of the building. In both cases the

well formulae are needed for the soil and hydraulic conditions at the site. The radius of the

assumed “big well” is;

mxBxLrs 5.41 9060 ===



B = width of excavation, b + 10m

L = length of excavation, +10m

In other words the wells are at 5m distance to the building. The radius of influence (Ro) is the

radius within which the drawdown occurs. Drawdown of the water table at a point produces a

cone of depression and the radius of influence (Ro) is a function of the drawdown (h) and the

permeability (k) of the soil as shown below.


More permeable the soil means greater the radius of influence is Ro = Ch√k is a proposed

equation to calculate Ro where c is a factor equal to 3000 for radial flow to pumped wells and

between 1500 and 2000 for line flow to trenches or to a line of wellpoints. Ro at the present

case is, Ro = 3000(76-69) 4105 −x ; Ro= 470 m. The percent drawdown of the water table at

any distance from the center of cone can be obtained from the following figure.

Drawdown at centre of excavation by peripheral wells:

Distance from perimeter to centre = 41.5m

Percentage distance along radius of influence (Ro) :

%8.8100 470

5.41 =x m m

⇒ From the above figure % drawdown is 58 %.

Therefore, required drawdown at wells to obtain 7m drawdown at centre of excavation will be

m12 58.0 7 = . In practice since each line of wells will contribute to the drawdown, a

somewhat lesser drawdown at the wells will be required. Alternatively, assuming a full 12 m

drawdown will allow a margin of error.

For the confined aquifer case the flow (or yield) can be calculated by the following formula

(Refer to sources containing well formulae for various profiles. References 2, 3 and 4 provide

such formulae).

5.41 470

)921(171052)(2 4



r Rn





−= −

= −ππ


Q = 0.264 m3/s = 246 lt/s


Q = discharge from assumed single well (m3/s)

k = coefficient o permeability (m/s)

D = height of piezometric level above base of aquifer (m)

hw= height of water at outside edge of pumping wells

after drawdown (m)

Ro = radius of influence (m)

rs = equivalent radius of assumed single well (m)

Assuming 450 mm diameter wells find the area of wetted depth (hw) of wells for calculated

yield using the following graph for k = 5x10-4 m/s : Yield per metre of wetted depth = 2.1 lt/s

Total wetted depth required 1.2

264 =126 m approx. For drawdown to +64.0m at the wells (i.e.

hw≅9m) the intake level of the pumps must be at a level sufficiently lower to allow for the

length of the pump and to avoid cavitation of the water above the pump. (Allow 1.5m for the


length of pump and 5m for cavitation) It would there fore be necessary to set the pump inlet

at, say, +57m. Allow also 2-3m below the pump inlet and bottom of the well screen should

be at, say, 54.0m.

Yield per well = 9m x 2.1 lt/s = 18.9 lt/s .

Hence theoretical numbero f wells required:

14 9.18

264 =

Add three (about 20%) to allow for variations in soil conditions, pump breakdowns etc. Plus

margin of error and reserve capacity to establish equilibrium.

Selection of the pump:

Yield per pump : 264/14 = 18.9 lt/s

Total pumping head from pumping level = 12m. (76m – 64m)

Allow 4 m for velocity head and friction losses.

Therefore the total head is appoximately 16 m.

From pump manufacturer’s performance curves (submersible pumps) select suitable pumps

for installation inside 200/300 mm diameter casing screen (i.e. 450 mm less 75 mm annulus

for gravel pack).

Check also conveying pipe sizes (250 mm dia. minimum required, allow 305 mm dia).

Design of wellpoints can be made after calculating the yield (flow) using formulae for

trenchs (line sources) and then using the given nomograms.


1. Quinion, D.W. and Quinion, G.R.(1987), Control of Groundwater, ICE Works

Construction Guides, Thomas Telford Pub.Co., London.

2. Somerville, S.H.(1986), Control of Groundwater for Temporary Works, CIRIA

(Construction Industry Research and Information Association) Report No.113.

3. Mansur, C.I. and Kaufman, R.I. (1962) Dewatering, in Foundation Engineering

G.A. Leonards pp.241-350, Mc Graw-Hill Book Co.

4. Powers, J.P. (1992), Construction Dewatering, 492p., 2nd ed. John Wiley and Sons


5. Teng, V.C.(1962) Foundation Design, 466 p., Ch.5, Prentice-Hall, IAC.,Englewood

Cliffs, N.J.

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