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Capillary cover design for leach pad closure

G. Zhan
Chief hydrologist, Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc., Elko, Nevada

M. Aubertin
Professor, Department of Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering,
Ecole Polytechnique, Centre-Ville, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

A. Mayer
Superintendent hydrology, Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc., Elko, Nevada

K. Burke
Manager environmental, Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc., Elko, Nevada

J. McMullen
Director metallurgy and technology, Barrick Gold Corp., Toronto, Ontario, Canada

A cover with capi1lar.y barrier effects (CCBE) is being constructed an the AA leach pad at the Barrick
Goldstrike mine near Carlin, Nevada. The purpose ofthe cover is to eliminate/minirnize infiltratiorz of meteoric
waters into the leach pad. Laboratory and numerical analyses indicate that Carlin Formation siltstone (TCS),
a locally available material, has the necessay hydrologic characteristics when placed on the leach pad to act
as a CCBE. A pilot study was conducted on a mall-scale test cover placed on the AA leach pad to examine
the cover performance under irrigated conditions. The preliminary test results demonstrate that the designed
cover is capable of preventing meteoric water infiltration.

A cover with capillary barrier effects (CCBE) was designed
for the AA leach pad as part of the pads closure. A CCBE
usually consists of a fine-grained material layer overlying a
coarse-grained material layer. Because of the contrast between the water-retention curves (WRC) of the coarse- and
fine-grained materials, flow through a CCBE is minimized
until the upper fine-grained material becomes nearly saturated. In the configuration of a CCBE, the coarse layer serves
as a barrier, while the fine layer serves as a storage layer.
Over the last few decades, the use of a CCBE has been
proposed as either store-and-release evapotranspiration (ET)
covers (Frind et a]., 1976; Fayer et al., 1992; Benson et al.,
1994; Morris and Stormont, 1997) or as nearly saturated
oxygen barriers (McMullen et al., 1997; Ricard et al.. 1997,
1999). Long-term monitoring programs have shown that a
CCBE can be constructed on a large scale and that a CCBE can
perform as simulated using numerical models (Aubertin et a]..
1997, 1999).
The CCBEconcept is well suited for Nevada because of the
aridlsemiarid climate. At the test site, the recorded annual pan
evaporation, approximately 150 cm (59 in.) is nearly five
times higher than the annual precipitation of about 30 cm (12
in.). In this environment, a properly designed and constructed
fine-grained layer will rarely (if ever) reach full saturation.

Laboratory test results, as well as one-dimensional and twodimensional numerical simulations, have indicated that the
leach-pad material has the appropriate hydraulic characteristics to act as the coarse-grained material layer in the CCBE
design. Carlin Formation siltstones (TCS) or topsoil, both
locally available materials, have the appropriate hydraulic
characteristics to act as the fine-grained material layer. A 90
to 120 cm (36 to 48 in.) TCS cover is now being constructed
to store and laterally divert water during precipitation periods
and to allow the removal of water through evaporation and
transpiration (ET) during dry periods (Zhan et al., 2000.
2001 ).
Following the laboratory and numerical studies, a field test
area with two instrumented cells was constructed on the AA
leach pad to evaluate the CCBE performance and to correlate
with model results under irrigated conditions. In this paper.
descriptions of the field tests and the monitoring instruments
are presented. In addition, the observed and simulated results
are compared, and some preliminary conclusions ensuing
from the tests are provided

CCBE performance test

A performance test of the CCBE for the AA leach pad was
conducted from July to September 2000. Descriptions of the
test procedures and theories are provided below.

Preprint number 01-137, presented at the SME Annual Meeting, Feb. 26-28,2001, Denver, Colorado. Manuscript accepted
for publication September 2001. Discussion of this peer-reviewed and approved paper is invited and must be submitted to
SME Publications Dept. prior to Sept. 30, 2002. Copyright 2002, Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration, Inc.


VOL. 310



Period T (rnillireconds)


Lab Regrassionfor TCS

Dimensionless Temperature Rise T*

Leach Pad
- -. Lab Regress~onfor
Leach Pad-

HDS Probes

Figure 2 - A Campbell 61 5 water content reflectometer

and its calibration curves for leach pad and TCS materials:
(a) TDR unit and (b) calibration curves.

-Lab Regression

Figure 3 - Campbell 229 heat-dispassion sensor and

calibration curves: (a) HDS unit and (b) calibration curve.

tion. The in situ field porosities ( n )of the cover and the leach
pad were approximately 0.38 and 0.19, respectively.
T* is the normalized temperature rise.

In situ test results. Approximately 120 m3 or 227 cm (4,200

cu ft or 89 in.) of water was applied to the test area. Three types
of irrigation events were evaluated:

The temperature unit of Eq. (2) is in Celsius.

Five HDS units were calibrated using this method, and the
calibrated results are presented in Fig. 3. This normalizing
procedure eliminates the need for multipoint calibration curves
for each sensor and, thus. greatly simplifies the calibration
process. Through this new calibration procedure, HDS can
provide accurate matric suction readings in the range of 50 to
10,000 cm (20 to 4.000 in.).

Test cell instrument installation. Each test cell was instrumented with TDR andHDS. The distance between the two cell
locations is approximately 2 m (6.6 ft). Figure 4 illustrates the
sensor layout at one test cell and sensor setup at different
The instruments were installed in a trench excavated by a
backhoe at depths of 15,45,75 and 120 cm (6, 18,30 and 48
in.). The top two sensor pairs were located in the cover layer,
while the bottom two sensor pairs were located in the leach
pad. The material excavated from each lift was stockpiled
separately on the ground surface, so it could be back-filled to
the same depth.
Pairs of TDR and HDS were positioned horizontally and
adjacent to each other. The compaction was completed by a
gasoline-powered "Whacker" to repack the trench to approximately the same bulk density as the material prior to excavaTRANSACTIONS 2001

VOL. 310

A large influx fbllo~+~ed

by long-time drainage: Approximately 207.3 cm (8 1.6 in.) of water (equal to about
6.3 years of precipitation) was applied between July 24
to August 8. The wetting front movements in the cover
and leach pad materials and the drying cycle were
monitored in this process.
Rainfall: Rainfall occurred on August 23, August 3 1.
September 1-2 and September 22. The total rainfall was
about 2.4 cm (0.95 in.).
Three episodes of adding dlferent volumes of I+,ater:
These occurred on September 12- 13, September 1 8 and
September 21. The controlled irrigation rate for these
episodes were 1 1.2,2.6 and 3.6 cm (4.4, l .O and 1.4 in.),
respective1 y.

Figures 5 and 6 show the volumetric water content (0)

measurements and matric suction (y)measurements at two
test cells. The observed results of volumetric water content
and matric suction from the two adjacent cells are quite
During the large influx, it took about three days for water
to percolate through the 60-cm (24-in.) cover. The volumetric
water content for TCS and leach-pad materials reached their
porosity values, which are 0.38 and 0.19, respectively. The
water content measurements showed large peaks for both the



a Cell I


b Cell 2













Figure 8 - Simulated volumetric water content, suction,

and applied irrigation rate: (a) simulated volumetric water
content and (b) simulated matric suction.

Figure 6- Measured matric suction at each depth interval

and applied irrigation rate.

- -o -

rcs (ma)






3 2, 010


0 00





100000 1000000

blittric Suction (-cm)

Figure 7 - Observed and fitted WRC for the leach pad

and TCS materials.

ing numerical simulations, all GSA points and two high

suction points from DBA are combined to form a new "representative" WRC for the TCS and leach pad materials. The new
data sets were fitted to Fredlund's equation using SoilCover
(Fredlund and Xing, 1994; Fredlund et al., 1994: Geo-Analysis 2000 Ltd.. 1997). The fitted results are also presented in
Fig. 7.
The numerical simulations were conducted using the onedimensional code SoilCover. Detailed daily weather data
were used. The weather station at the mine site recorded
hourly data for the test period. The data includes air teniperature, wind speed, relative humidity. precipitation and total
radiation. SoilCover computes potential evaporation (PE)
using a modified Penmam equation that requires net radiation
as input (Wilson, 1990). Net radiation was calibrated to match
the measured total weekly pan evaporation. The simulated

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volumetric water content and suction values at the four depths,

at which the sensors are installed. are presented in Fig. 8.
The simulated results show reasonably good agreements
with the observed results, as shown in Figs. 5 and 6. The
wetting fronts are well simulated. The calculated water content values in the leach pad are similar to the observed values,
while the simulated water content values in the TCS layer are
slightly lower than the observed values. Because the test cells
are on the east-facing slope, less exposure to sunshine could
account forthis difference. Another explanation for the offset
is that the hydraulic properties in situ might be slightly
different than the ones used for the calculations. In addition.
only one-dimensional conditions are treated by the code,
which may induce some differences in the results. The
simulated suction values during the large influx period are
much less than the observed values. This may be due to
calibration limitation of HDS that are unable to read suction
values below 50 cm (20 in.). The simulated suction values at
the shallowest depth shows a significant drop due to the
precipitation events from August 3 1 to September 2, but the
observed values do not. It is also possible that the sensors at
the shallowest depths were installed somewhat deeper than
15 crn (6 in.) or lateral movement of water in the cover, which
a one-dimensional model could not simulate. In spite of the
slight differences, the overall response of the system is well
represented by the numerical calculations.

Long-term cover performance predictions

It was demonstrated that the observed rewlts from the pilot
study were simulated reasonably well using SoilCover. During long irrigation periods, the volumetric water content of the
unvegetated cover was as high as 0.26, which is much larger



Table 1 -Water

budget terms of the standard simulation.

Cumulative precipitation, mm
Daily rain period, hr
Cumulative evaporation, mm
Cumulative runoff, mm
Cumulative infiltration, mm
Cumulative transpiration, mm
Cumulative cover bottom flow, mm
Cumulative pad bottom flow, mm

than the residual water content that could be achieved after

extended dry periods or with the addition of vegetation. To
predict long-term performance of the vegetated CCBE, a
quasi-steady-state simulation was conducted for aTCS cover
with thickness of 90 cm (36 in.).

Model inputs. In addition to the hydrologic parameters of the

TCS leach pad materials, the following inputs were also used
in the simulation:
Clirnatic data: The weather station at the mine site has a
complete daily data set for the year 1998. This data set is used
for the weather input with the following modifications:
The 1998 precipitation data were scaled to match the
long-tern1 annual average precipitation from a USGS
weather station. located about 8 km (5 miles) southeast
of the mine site. This state weather station has 22 years
of precipitation records with an average annual precipitation of about 33 cm (13 in.). The shorter record from
the mine-site weather station is consistent with data
from this station.
Net radiation was estimated from incoming radiation and
pan evaporation. Pan evaporation of about 150 cmlyear
(59 in./year) was measured at the mine site. Soilcover
requires net radiation as input. Net radiation equals
incoming radiation, measured by the sensor, minus reflected radiation. Reflected radiation is the product of
incoming radiation and a coefficient of albedo. Coefficient of albedo was calculated to be 0.25 based on a
potential evaporation of 150 c d y e a r (59 i d y e a r ) .
Boundary conditiorzs: Climatic data were used to define
the suction and temperature boundary conditions that control
water and heat exchange between the atmosphere and the
upper surface of the leach pad. The lower portion of the leach
pad was represented as fully saturated with a constant temperature equal to the annual average air temperature of 9C
Vrgrtation: The method used by the program accounts for
the effects of canopy cover, root depth and water stress. The
vegetation is characterized as "poor," having a leaf area index
(LAI) from 0 to 1. The growth period is from March 16 to
October 15. The root zone depth is specified as 90 cm (36 in.).
The moisture limiting point of the vegetation is specified as
100 kPa. The wilting point of the vegetation is specified as
1.500 kPa.
When suction is smallerthan the limiting point (i.e., the soil
is relatively wet), plant transpiration is uninhibited. When
suction is between the limiting point and the wilting point,
plant transpiration is reduced by a factor that is proportional
to the log of suction. Plant transpiration is zero when suction
is greater than or equal to the wilting point.


Volumetric water content, cm3/cm3

Figure 9 -Simulated water-content profiles of leach pad
with 90 c m (36 in.) T C S cover.

Initial condition: A dynamic quasi-steady-state condition

was calculated as the initial condition of the sin~ulations.The
dynamic quasi-steady-state was reached by inputting the daily
climate information into the model and executing several
iterations until the simulated water content profiles were the
same on a particular day for successive annual periods.

Simulated results. The simulated cumulative water budget

terms are summarized in Table 1. Values presented in the table
show that there is no water seeping to the coarse leach pad
material, and no water flows through the bottom of the pad.
Simulated water content profiles are presented in Fig. 9.
Results from Days 0, 16, 21 1 and 365 are presented for
illustrative purposes. Day 16 is a wet winter day during a high
precipitation period, and Day 21 1 is a dry day in the summer.
Examination of the profiles indicates that a strong capillary
barrier effect is established. The fine-grain material in the
cover layer is much wetter than the underlying leach pad
material, which has a very low hydraulic conductivity, hence,
preventing downward vertical water flow.
The simulated results demonstrate that a 90 cm (36 in.)
TCS cover effectively limits water infiltration to the leach pad
during average weather conditions. It is interesting to note that
the water content in the vegetated cover is approximately
0.17, which is significantly lower than the watercontent of the
unvegetated cover. Therefore, vegetation will effectively increase the water holding capacity of the cover.

Discussions and conclusions

The observed test results demonstrate that the cover performance can be monitored using TDR and HDS monitors.
Strong lateral capillary rise was observed during the test. This
phenonlenon can only occur for fine materials with significant
water-retention capacity. With vegetation developed on the
cover, the water content of the cover is simulated to be about
0.17. Water content of the cover at field capacity can reach as
high as 0.30, as demonstrated by the test during the irrigation
period of September 18 and 21, so the additional unit storage
capacity of the cover to 0.13 (0.30 minus 0.17). A cover
thickness of 90 to 120 cm (36 to 48 in.) will store 12 to 16 cm
(4.7 to 6.3 in.) of water, independent of evaporation and lateral
drainage. Based on this analysis, the holding capacity of the
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cover has sufficient volume to retain three continuous 100year storm events, i.e.. approximately 24cm (9.5 in.) of water,
assuming half the precipitation is surface runoff. Therefore,
the cover will operate as designed even under extreme precipitation conditions.

This paper is aresult of the AA leach pad reclamation program
of Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc. The authors thank Dr. M.
Ankeney, Daniel B. Stephens &Associates Inc., for technical
support. Dr. D. Hammermeister and Mr. M. Milczarek, Geo~ i s i e mAnalysis Inc., are also acknowledged for the sensor
calibrations and installation.

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