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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 22 No. 1, p. 62-69
    Received: Dec 16, 1991

    * Corresponding author(s):
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Managing Soil Moisture on Waste Burial Sites in Arid Regions

  1. J. E. Anderson *,
  2. R. S. Nowak,
  3. T. D. Ratzlaff and
  4. O. D. Markham
  1. Dep. of Biological Sciences, Idaho State Univ., Pocatello, ID 83209;
    Dep. of Range, Wildlife and Forestry, Univ. of Nevada, 1000 Valley Road, Reno, NV 89512;
    Radiological and Environ. Sciences Lab., U.S. Dep. of Energy, Idaho Field Office, 785 DOE Place, Idaho Falls, ID 83402.



In semiarid regions, where potential evapotranspiration greatly exceeds precipitation, it is theoretically possible to preclude water form reaching interred wastes by (i) providing a sufficient cap of soil to store precipitation that falls while plants are dormant and (ii) establishing sufficient plant cover to deplete soil moisture during the growing season, thereby emptying the water storage reservoir of the soil. Here we discuss the theory and rationale for such an approach and then present the results of a field study to test its efficacy at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL). We examined the capacity of four species of perennial plants to deplete soil moisture on simulated waste trenches and determined the effective water storage capacity of the soil. Those data enabled us to estimate the minimum depth of fill soil required to prevent deep drainage. Any of the species studied can use all of the plant-available soil water, even during a very wet growing season. The water storage capacity of the soil studied is 17% by volume, so a trench cap of 1.6 m of soil should be adequate to store precipitation received at the INEL while plants are dormant. We recommend a fill soil depth of 2 m to provide a margin of safety in case water accumulates in local areas as a result of heavy snow accumulation, subsidence, or runoff. Fill soil requirements and choice of plant species will vary, but the concepts and general approach are applicable to other shallow land burial sites in arid or semiarid regions.

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