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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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) :
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
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:
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 Ed.by
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