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Engineering Ethics Case Study: The Taum Sauk Reservoir Failure

Mark P. Rossow, PhD, PE Retired

Course Outline

This five-hour online course discusses the failure of the Taum Sauk reservoir on December 14th, 2005. Taum Sauk is a pumped storage plant located near Lesterville, MO, consisting of four main elements:

Taum Sauk stores water by pumping it to the upper reservoir when demand (and cost) for electricity is low (pump cycle) and then releases the water to generate electricity when power is needed (generation cycle).  Investigation after the failure of the reservoir showed that the reservoir overspill was caused by failure of the upper reservoir level-protection system and inaccurate readings within the level control system.  The level protection system was effectively disabled because the level probes were located in a position too high to sense water during the event.  In addition, the level control system lost accuracy because of the shift of the instrumentation pipes causing a change of the instrument elevation.  No evidence of operator error was found.  Management failed to give sufficient attention to dam safety considerations related to the design, operation, and management of the facility.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

Learning Objective

At the conclusion of this course, the student will:

Intended Audience

This course is intended for civil, mechanical, and electrical engineers concerned with issues of ethics and responsible behavior in the management of complex projects in which safety and the avoidance of catastrophic failure are of concern.

Benefit to Attendees

Attendee of this course will realize the importance of proper training and supervision of maintenance personnel in a complex engineering system.

Course Introduction

At approximately 5:15 AM on Dec. 14th, 2005, the retaining dam of the upper reservoir of Ameren’s Taum Sauk pump storage plant breached and released approximately 1 billion gallons of water.

Course Content

This course is based on FERC Report No. P-2277, “Taum Sauk Upper Dam Breach, Technical Reasons for the Breach of December 14, 2005,” prepared by the FERC Independent Panel of Consultants, May 24, 2006.

Engineering Ethics Case Study: The Taum Sauk Reservoir Failure

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Course Summary

The failure of the reservoir level monitoring instrumentation to function was a primary cause of the reservoir failure.  The failure of the level protection instrumentation to function as intended was due to a misplacement of the level protection instrumentation as a result of human error.  In general, inadequate attention was paid to dam safety considerations as regards the design, operation, and management of the facility.

Related Links

For additional technical information related to this subject, please visit the following websites or web pages:


Once you finish studying the above course content, you need to take a quiz to obtain the PDH credits.

DISCLAIMER: The materials contained in the online course are not intended as a representation or warranty on the part of PDH Center or any other person/organization named herein. The materials are for general information only. They are not a substitute for competent professional advice. Application of this information to a specific project should be reviewed by a registered architect and/or professional engineer/surveyor. Anyone making use of the information set forth herein does so at their own risk and assumes any and all resulting liability arising therefrom.