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Suggested Method of Test for Permeability and Capillarity of Soils and Soil Mixtures Housel, WS University of Michigan, Ann


Pages: 8

Published: Jan 1970

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Source: STP479-EB Abstract

This test is intended to determine the coefficient of permeability of undisturbed soil samples or prepared samples of a specified moisture content and density. The procedure leads to a measure of the percolation rate and the equivalent capillary head which must be exceeded before percolation takes place. Paper ID: STP38501S Committee/Subcommittee: D18.04 DOI: 10.1520/STP38501S ASTM International is a member of CrossRef.

3 Testing Permeability in HARAClay Liner Various methods to determine insitu permeability of soils were explored. They were as follows: Determination of permeability of soils by Constant and falling head tests Double ring method Laboratory permeability test Soil Percolation test 3.1 Constant and Falling Head Test This field test is usually carried out in boreholes to determine permeability of substrata. However the method has limitations when applying for a metre thick unsaturated clay liner. Therefore these two methods were not used. 3.2 Double Ring Method The method was developed for similar situations however when tested higher permeability values were recorded due to leaking from ring edges. Because of the material was clay it took long time to percolate water than saturate edges and leak into air. The method is generally good for sandy soils than clays. A sample results are shown in Table 1. 3.3 Laboratory Permeability Test Few thin walled samples were obtained form locations across Hazelwood Ash Retention Area (HARA) and laboratory permeability testing were carried out. Results are tabulated in Table 3. This method is proven to be accurate however excessive sampling and testing was very expensive and time consuming. It was found that the clay liner

was very dry and attempting thin walled sampling often disturbed the sample either during sampling or sample extraction prior to testing. Therefore the method was not considered economical in this case. 1327
Soil Pro be and Perc olati on Test ing Allst ate Sept ic Syst ems performs soil probes and percolation tests as required by regulation for site evaluation prior to obtaining an on lot sewage disposal permit. Regulations in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey require a soil probe to determine soil profile, which in turn dictates the type of system to be installed. Percolation tests are mainly used in Pennsylvania, and permeability tests are used in New Jersey. Both determine the size of the system using results and a calculation to equal square feet of absorption area required. To learn more about soil probe, percolation tests, and permeability tests, please read below. Soil Probe A pit excavated, utilizing a backhoe or similar equipment, to a depth of seven to ten feet below the original grade. A sewage officer, soil scientist or engineer will descend into the excavation, and analyze the soil profile, identifying seasonal water tables, rock formations, open voids, or any other limiting zone that may hinder the downward movement or renovation of the sewage effluent. The results of this test determine system type, or may eliminate a site as unsuitable. Percolation Test Commonly referred to as a perc test, this test actually extends over two days. On the first day normally six holes are dug utilizing post-hole digging equipment to a depth of twelve to thirty six inches. More holes may be required for larger systems. The holes are usually six to ten inches in diameter. Twelve inches of water are added to each hole on the first day, this is known as a pre-soak. On the second

day fixed points are established at each hole to allow uniform measurement of water movement. Six inches of water are initially poured into each hole. At thirty minute intervals each hole is refilled to the beginning six inch level. After the third thirty minute interval the drop is measured, and enough water is added to reach the original six inch level. This process is repeated until eight readings have been obtained, or four consecutive stabilized readings have been obtained. This test lasts from a minimum of three hours to five hours. The results from this test are used to calculate the system size in square feet, or may eliminate a site as unsuitable if the percolation rate is too fast or too slow. Permeability Test Permeability tests are usually performed in New Jersey in lieu of a percolation test. A soil sample is obtained from the desired depth of the proposed system, usually during the soil probe. This sample is taken to a laboratory for analysis for permeability, and the results are used in a formula to determine the number of square feet of absorption area required. Allstate Septic Systems will utilize the results of the above testing procedures to design an on lot sewage disposal system. This design will then be submitted to the governing agency for permit issuance
Percolation Tests
A percolation (permeability) test assesses the hydraulic assimilation capacity of the subsoil i.e. the length of time for the water level in the percolation hole to drop by a specified amount. The objective of the percolation test is to determine the ability of the subsoil to hydraulically transmit the treated effluent from the treatment system, through the subsoil to groundwater. The test also gives an indication of the likely residence time of the treated effluent in the upper subsoil layers and therefore it provides an indication of the ability of the subsoil to treat the residual pollutants contained in the treated effluent. There are two basic types of percolation test: the T-test and the P-test. The result of the percolation test is expressed as either the T value or the P value. A minimum of two test holes should be excavated and tested at each site. The T-Test: The T-test is used to test the suitability of the subsoil, beneath the invert of the proposed percolation pipe or polishing filter distribution system to hydraulically transmit the treated effluent from the treatment system. The precise depth at which the percolation pipe will be located (and, by consequence, the top of the T-Test percolation test hole) will depend on the most suitable subsoil layer for treatment and disposal and the depth of topsoil at the site but will normally be at least 450 mm below the ground level, to provide adequate protection for the percolation pipe work and to ensure that the percolation pipe is discharging into the subsoil layer. The assessor will decide the actual depth at which the percolation pipe will be located, based on the results of the visual assessment and the trial hole investigation. This in turn will dictate the depth from ground surface to the top of the T-test percolation hole. A T-test should be conducted at all sites because if a T-test is in excess of 90 then

irrespective of the P-test result the site is unsuitable for discharge of treated effluent to ground as it will ultimately result in ponding due to the impervious nature of the underlying subsoil (or bedrock). The P-Test: The P-test is carried out at ground level to establish a percolation value for soils that are being considered to be used for constructing a mounded percolation area or a polishing filter discharging at ground surface. Situations where a P-Test might be considered include:

Where the T-test shows that the site is not suitable for treating effluent from a conventional septic tank (50 T 90) and consideration is being given to an alternative treatment system which would discharge to ground through a polishing filter, and,

Where the visual assessment and trial hole investigation indicate limiting factors for installation of a conventional septic tank such as a high water table or shallow bedrock, and an alternative treatment system that would discharge to ground through a polishing filter is being considered. Location of Test Holes: Percolation test holes should be located adjacent to; but not within, the proposed percolation area. It is important to note that the top of the percolation hole should be located as accurately as possible to the same level of the invert of the percolation pipe. Further, attention should be given to the impact of slope and subsoil layering on the location of the invert of the percolation pipe. Where unsaturated subsoil depth is limiting, it may be possible to choose a percolation pipe invert level, which is near or at the ground surface, in order to fully exploit the available subsoil depth. In such cases it will be necessary to provide protection for the percolation pipe-work, when installed, by placing soil over the pipe-work in sufficient quantities (minimum of 150mm gravel and 300mm topsoil) to ensure that damage due to activities on the surface does not occur. In the case where there is a high water table present then it is critical to assess the subsoil layer just above the water table by carrying out a percolation test, thus determining whether or not the water table is due to a low permeability subsoil or a naturally high water table due to the sites hydrological location. In situations, where the T-test is in excess of 90 then irrespective of the P-test result the site is unsuitable for discharge of treated effluent to ground as it is likely ultimately to result in ponding due to the impervious nature of the underlying subsoil (or bedrock). Where experience indicates that the site may be borderline, then both tests should be carried out at the same time. The subsoil classifications from the trial hole should be confirmed by the percolation test results. If there is not a good correlation then further examination should be undertaken to determine which assessment provides the accurate assessment of the suitability of the site to treat and dispose of the effluent. An integrated approach is required when carrying out the assessment. INTERPRETATION OF PERCOLATION TEST RESULTS

T <1 : Retention time in the subsoil insufficient to provide satisfactory treatment. Site is unsuitable for conventional wastewater treatment system. P-test should be undertaken to determine whether the site is suitable for a Secondary Treatment System with a polishing filter at ground surface or over ground. Sites may be suitable for discharge to surface water in accordance with Water Pollution Act licence.

1 T 50 Site is suitable for the development of a conventional septic tank system or a Secondary Treatment System discharging to groundwater.

T value between 50 -75 Wastewater from a conventional septic tank system is likely to cause ponding at the surface of the percolation area. Not suitable for a conventional septic tank system. May be suitable for a secondary treatment system with a polishing filter at the depth of the T-Test hole.

75 T 90 Wastewater from a conventional septic tank system is likely to cause ponding at the surface of the percolation area. Not suitable for a conventional septic tank system. Site unsuitable for polishing filter at the depth of the T-Test hole. P-Test should be undertaken to determine whether the site is suitable for a Secondary Treatment System with polishing filter, i.e., 1 P 75, at ground surface or over ground.

T > 90 Site is unsuitable for development of any wastewater treatment system discharging to ground. Site may be suitable for treatment system discharging to surface water in accordance with Water Pollution Act licence.

T<1 and P <1 Retention time in the subsoil insufficient to provide satisfactory treatment. Site is unsuitable for any treatment system without carrying out significant site improvement works.

P >75 and 75<T< 90 : Site is unsuitable for development of a wastewater treatment system discharging to ground.

P > 75 and T>90 Site is unsuitable for development of a wastewater treatment system discharging to ground. Site may be suitable for a discharge to surface water in accordance with Water Pollution Act licence.

Soil Permeability Testing Methods

By Keith Allen, eHow Contributor , last updated March 29, 2012

Soil Permeability Testing Methods

Soil permeability is a measurement of the rate water moves through soil. Soil permeability is governed by the makeup of the soil. Sandy and rocky soils have a high rate of soil permeability, while clay types of soils have a low rate. The rate of soil permeability can affect engineering and planning for structures such as sewer systems and earthen dams. It also is used to determine footings in buildings to prevent settling. There are several methods used to measure and quantify soil permeability.Does this Spark an idea?

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Constant Head Permeability

Constant head permeability tests are used to calculate seepage potential through earthen dams and embankments such as dikes, according to the University of Texas at Arlington. The testing uses a specialized device referred to as a constant head permeameter. In the test, the permeameter is filled with test soil and water run through the sample until the soil is saturated. The amount of water that is discharged from the soil and water mixture in a measured length of time is used as an input to a formula used to determine the soil permeability. The length of time used in the test can vary, but should be consistent during all tests performed for a location.

Falling Head Permeability

The falling head method of testing soil permeability is also used in estimating water seepage in dams and other water-containing structures. The soil is saturated with water in a permeameter. The permeameter is placed underwater with a stand pipe extending above the water. The period of time water flows from the stand pipe is measured and used as part of a mathematical formula to calculate soil permeability.

Percolation Test
The percolation or perc test is a field test used to determine permeability. It is sometimes recognized as an appropriate test for home septic or sewer systems. It does not have the degree of accuracy of the constant head or falling head laboratory tests. In a percolation test, holes are dug, usually with a post hole digger, in the test area. Test holes of at least 6 inches in diameter and at least as deep as the planned construction are required. The University of Minnesota Extension office suggests at least two and preferably three test holes per project. Fill the hole with water and wait overnight. If there is still water in the test holes the next day bail the hole out until 6 inches of water remains. If all water has drained away add water until there is 6 inches of water in the hole. Measure the drop in water every half hour until three consecutive readings vary by less than 10 percent. The drainage times are used in a formula to calculate the percolation rate.

Read more: Soil Permeability Testing Methods |

9.0 Why is it important to determine soil permeability?
Soil permeability is the property of the soil to transmit water and air and is one of the most important qualities to consider for fish culture.

A pond built in impermeable soil will lose little water through seepage.

The more permeable the soil, the greater the seepage. Some soil is so permeable and seepage so great that it is not possible to build a pond without special construction techniques. You will learn about these techniques in a later volume in this series.

Soils are generally made up of layers and soil quality often varies greatly from one layer to another. Before pond construction, it is important to determine the relative position of the permeable and impermeable layers. The design of a pond should be planned to avoid having a permeable layer at the bottom to prevent excessive water loss into the subsoil by seepage. The dikes of the pond should be built with soil which will ensure a good water retention. Again, soil quality will have to be checked with this in mind.

9.1 Which factors affect soil permeability?

Many factors affect soil permeability. Sometimes they are extremely localized, such as cracks and holes, and it is difficult to calculate representative values of permeability from actual measurements. A good study of soil profiles provides an essential check on such measurements. Observations on soil texture, structure, consistency, colour/mottling, layering, visible pores and depth to impermeable layers such as bedrock and claypan* form the basis for deciding if permeability measurements are likely to be representative.
Note: you have already learned that soil is made up of a number of horizons, each of

them usually having different physical and chemical properties. To determine the permeability of soil as a whole, each horizon should be studied separately.

9.2 Soil permeability relates to soil texture and structure

The size of the soil pores is of great importance with regard to the rate of infiltration (movement of water into the soil) and to the rate of percolation (movement of water through the soil). Pore size and the number of pores closely relate to soil texture and structure, and also influence soil permeability.

Permeability variation according to soil texture

Usually, the finer the soil texture, the slower the permeability, as shown below:
Soil Texture Permeability

Clayey soils Loamy soils Sandy soils

Fine Moderately fine From very slow to Moderately very rapid coarse Coarse

Example Average permeability for different soil textures in cm/hour Sand 5.0

Sandy loam Loam Clay loam Silty clay Clay

2.5 1.3 0.8 0.25 0.05

Permeability variation according to soil structure

Structure may greatly modify the permeability rates shown above, as follows:
Structure type Permeability

- Greatly overlapping Platy - Slightly overlapping Blocky Prismatic Granular


From very slow to very rapid

This may vary according to the degree to which the structure is developed.

It is common practice to alter the soil structure to reduce permeability, for example, in irrigated agriculture through the puddling of rice fields and in civil engineering through the mechanical compaction* of earthen dams. Similar practices may be applied to fishponds to reduce water seepage.

9.3 Soil permeability classes


Permeability is commonly measured in terms of the rate of water flow through the soil in a given period of time. It is usually expressed either as a permeability rate in centimetres per hour (cm/h), millimetres per hour (mm/h), or centimetres per day (cm/d), or as acoefficient of permeability k in metres per second (m/s) or in centimetres per second (cm/s).

For agriculture and conservation uses, soil permeability classes are based on permeability rates, and for civil engineering, soil permeability classes are based on the

coefficient of permeability (see Tables 15 and 16). For fish culture, two methods are generally used to determine soil permeability. They are:
The coefficient of permeability; The seepage rate.

For the siting of ponds and the construction of dikes, the coefficient of permeability is generally used to qualify the suitability of a particular soil horizon:
Dikes without any impermeable clay core may be built from soils having a coefficient of permeability less than -4 K = 1 x 10 m/s; Pond bottoms may be built into soils having a coefficient of permeability less than K = 5 x -6 10 m/s.

For pond management, the seepage rate is generally used:

In commercial pond culture, an average seepage rate of 1 to 2 cm/d is considered acceptable, but corrective measures should be taken to reduce soil permeability when higher values exist, particularly when they reach 10 cm/d or more.

9.4 Measurement of soil permeability in the laboratory

When you take an undisturbed sample to a testing laboratory, to measure permeability, a

column of soil is placed under specific conditions such as water saturation and constant head of water. The result will be given to you either as a permeability rate (see Table 15), or as a coefficient of permeability (see Table 16).
TABLE 15 Soil permeability classes for agriculture and conservation
1 Soil permeability Permeability rates classes cm/hour cm/day Less than Less than Very slow 0.13 3 Slow 0.13 - 0.3 3 - 12 Moderately slow 0.5 - 2.0 12 - 48 Moderate 2.0 - 6.3 48 - 151 Moderately rapid 6.3 - 12.7 151 - 305 Rapid 12.7 - 25 305 - 600 More than More than Very rapid 25 600

TABLE 16 Soil permeability classes for civil engineering

Coefficient of permeability (K in Soil permeability m/s) classes Lower Upper limit limit Permeable 2 x 10-7 2 x 10-1 Semi-permeable 1 x 10-11 1 x 10-5 Impermeable 1 x 10-11 5 x 10-7

Saturated samples under a constant water head of 1.27 cm

9.5 Measurement of soil permeability in the field

To measure soil permeability in the field, you can use one of the following tests:
The visual evaluation of the permeability rate of soil horizons; A simple field test for estimating soil permeability; A more precise field test measuring permeability rates.

The visual evaluation of the permeability rate of soil horizons

The permeability of individual soil horizons may be evaluated by the visual study of particular soil characteristics which have been shown by soil scientists to be closely related to permeability classes. The most significant factor in evaluating permeability is structure: its type, grade, and aggregation characteristics, such as the relationship between the length of horizontal and vertical axes of the aggregates and the direction and amount of overlap. Although neither soil texture nor colour mottling alone are reliable clues, these soil properties may help to estimate permeability when considered together with the structural characteristics.To evaluate visually the permeability of soil horizons:
Examine a fresh soil profile in an open pit; Determine the soil horizons present; Using Table 17A, evaluate the permeability class to which each horizon belongs,

carefully studying the structural characteristics of the soil; Confirm your results through the other soil properties shown in Table 17B; Ranges of permeability rates may then be found in Table 15. TABLE 17A Visual indicators of permeability: structural characteristics of soil

TABLE 17 B Visual Indicators of permeability: texture, physical behaviour and colour of soil

A simple field test for estimating soil permeability

Dig a hole as deep as your waist; Early in the morning, fill it with water to the top;

By the evening, some of the water will have sunk into the soil;

Fill the hole with water to the top again, and cover it with boards or leafy branches;

If most of the water is still in the hole the next morning, the soil permeability is suitable to build a fish-pond here;

Repeat this test in several other locations as many times as necessary, according to the soil quality.

A more precise field test for measuring permeability rates

Carefully examine the drawings you have made when studying your soil profiles; On the basis of texture and structure, determine which soil horizons seem to have theslowest permeability;

Note: you could also use the visual method (see Tables 17A and 17B) to

estimate permeability.
Mark the soil horizons on your drawings which seem to have the slowest permeability. Use a coloured pencil;

Note: water seeps into the soil both

horizontally and vertically, but you need only be concerned with the vertical water seepage because this is mainly what happens in ponds.
Dig a hole approximately 30 cm in Thoroughly smear the sides of the

diameter until you reach the uppermost least permeable horizon;

hole with heavy wet clay or line them with a plastic sheet, if available, to make them waterproof;

Pour water into the hole to a level of about 10 cm;

At first, the water will seep down rather quickly, and you will have to refill as it disappears. When the pores of the soil are full of water, seepage will slow down. You are then ready to measure the permeability of the soil horizon at the bottom of the hole;

Make sure that the water in the hole is about 10 cm deep as before. If it is not, add water to reach that level;

Put a measuring stick into the water and record the exact water depth, in millimetres (mm);

Check the water level in the hole every hour for several hours. Record the rate of seepage for each hourly period. If the water disappears too rapidly, add water to bring the level up to 10 cm again. Measure the water depth very carefully;

When your hourly measurements become nearly the same, the rate of permeability is constant and you may stop measuring; If there are great differences in seepage each hour, continue pouring water into the hole to keep the level at 10 cm until the rate of seepage remains nearly the same;


a soil horizon with suitable permeability for a pond bottom should also be at least 0.7-1 m thick, unless lower horizons exist with suitable permeability and thickness.
Now compare your results with the following values:

Permeability rate in mm/h

Suitability of horizon for a pond bottom

Slower than 2 2-5 5-20

Acceptable seepage: soil suitable Fast seepage: soil suitable ONLY if seepage due to soil structure which will disappear when pond is filled Excessive seepage: soil unsuitable unless seepage can be reduced as described below

If the permeability rate is faster than 5 mm/h, this may be owing to a strongly developed

structure in the soil. In such cases, you try to reduce the permeability rate by destroying the structure, as follows:
Puddle the bottom soil of the hole as deep as you can; Repeat the more precise permeability test until you can measure a nearly constant value for seepage.

If this new permeability rate does not exceed 4 mm/h, you may consider this soil horizon as suitable for a pond bottom. However, the entire bottom of the pond will have to be puddled before filling it with water; If this new permeability rate exceeds 4 mm/h, this may be owing to the presence of a permeable soil horizon under the horizon you have tested. Such a permeable layer is often found between layers of soil which are semi- permeable or even impermeable; Check this with the following test Dig a new hole 30 cm in diameter through the uppermost least permeable layer (A) to the top of the next least permeable layer (B); Repeat the permeability test until you measure a nearly constant value for seepage; If this permeability rate does not exceed 3 mm/h, you may consider this soil horizon as suitable for a pond bottom. However, remember that such slow permeability should be found in a layer at least 0.7-1 rn thick to ensure limited seepage through the pond bottom.

Note: when building your pond, you do not necessarily need to remove a shallow

permeable layer if there is a deeper layer of soil which is not permeable and will serve to hold the water. You must, however, build the pond dikes down to the deeper nonpermeable layer to form an enclosed basin and to avoid horizontal water seepage (see

Section 9.0).

9.6 Determining coefficients of permeability

To obtain a more accurate measurement of soil permeability, you can perform the following test in the field which will give you a value for the coefficient of permeability:
Using a bucket auger, drill a hole about 1 m deep in the soil at the location where you wish to determine the coefficient of permeability; Fill the hole with water to the top;

Every five minutes, for at least 20 minutes, refill the hole to the top to be sure that the soil is fully saturated; Top the water in the hole and start measuring the rate at which the water surface goes down, using a watch to measure time and a centimetregraduated ruler to measure the distance P between the water surface and the top of the hole. Stop measuring when the rate becomes nearly constant; Example Rate becomes constant

Measure exactly the total depth of the hole (H) and its diameter (D). Express all measurements in metres (m): for example H = 1.15 m and D = 12 cm or 0.12 m

For each of the above two consecutive measurements of time/distance, calculate the coefficient of permeability K using the following formula: K= (D2) x In (h1 h2) / 2 (t2- t1)

where (D 2) is the radius of the hole or half its diameter in metres; In refers to the Napierian or natural logarithm; h1 and h2 are the two consecutive depths of water in metres, h 1 at the start and h2 at the end of the time interval; (t2 - t1 ) expresses the time interval between two consecutive measurements, in seconds; Note: the h-values may be readily calculated as the differences between the total depth

of the hole H and the successive P values. Be careful to express all the measurements in metres and seconds so as to obtain K in m/s.

Now compare your K values (in m/s) with those in Table 16.

Example If (D 2) = 0.12 m 2 = 0.06 m and H = 1.15 m, calculations of the various K values are made progressively according to the formula (see Table 18). Note: for obtaining the natural logarithm of (h1 h2), you will have to use either a

logarithmic table or a pocket calculator. Remember that 10 - 6 = 0.000001 and 6.8 x 10-6 = 0.0000068, the negative exponent of 10 reflecting the decimal place to be given to the multiplicant. If you wish to compare a K value (m/s) with permeability rates (cm/day) , multiply K by 8 640 000 or 864 x 104 such as for example:
K = 1 x 10 m/s = 86.4 cm/day TABLE 18 Successive steps for the calculation of coefficients of permeability on the basis of field measurements (for a test hole with H = 1.15 m and D = 0.12 m)

NOTE: The formula for calculating coefficients of permeability is K = [(D 2) x In (h1

h2)] / or A B (see Section 9.6).

(t2 -