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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Waste Management

Field Water Balance of Landfill Final Covers


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 33 No. 6, p. 2317-2332
    Received: Feb 9, 2004

    * Corresponding author(s): bill@dri.edu
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  1. William H. Albright *a,
  2. Craig H. Bensonb,
  3. Glendon W. Geec,
  4. Arthur C. Roeslerd,
  5. Tarek Abichoue,
  6. Preecha Apiwantragoonb,
  7. Bradley F. Lylesa and
  8. Steven A. Rockf
  1. a Desert Research Institute, University and Community College System of Nevada, 2215 Raggio Parkway, Reno, NV 89512
    b Geo Engineering Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1415 Engineering Drive, Madison, WI 53706
    c Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories, 3200 Q Avenue, Richland, WA 99352
    d Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc., Elmwood Park, NJ 07407
    e Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 2525 Pottsdamer Street, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32310
    f USEPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory, 5995 Center Hill Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45268


Landfill covers are critical to waste containment, yet field performance of specific cover designs has not been well documented and seldom been compared in side-by-side testing. A study was conducted to assess the ability of landfill final covers to control percolation into underlying waste. Conventional covers employing resistive barriers as well as alternative covers relying on water-storage principles were monitored in large (10 × 20 m), instrumented drainage lysimeters over a range of climates at 11 field sites in the United States. Surface runoff was a small fraction of the water balance (0–10%, 4% on average) and was nearly insensitive to the cover slope, cover design, or climate. Lateral drainage from internal drainage layers was also a small fraction of the water balance (0–5.0%, 2.0% on average). Average percolation rates for the conventional covers with composite barriers (geomembrane over fine soil) typically were less than 12 mm/yr (1.4% of precipitation) at humid locations and 1.5 mm/yr (0.4% of precipitation) at arid, semiarid, and subhumid locations. Average percolation rates for conventional covers with soil barriers in humid climates were between 52 and 195 mm/yr (6–17% of precipitation), probably due to preferential flow through defects in the soil barrier. Average percolation rates for alternative covers ranged between 33 and 160 mm/yr (6 and 18% of precipitation) in humid climates and generally less than 2.2 mm/yr (0.4% of precipitation) in arid, semiarid, and subhumid climates. One-half (five) of the alternative covers in arid, semiarid, and subhumid climates transmitted less than 0.1 mm of percolation, but two transmitted much more percolation (26.8 and 52 mm) than anticipated during design. The data collected support conclusions from other studies that detailed, site-specific design procedures are very important for successful performance of alternative landfill covers.

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