Advice from the Field: Landfill Partial Final Covers and Associated Features
December 28, 2020
State regulatory agencies normally require landfill slopes reaching final grades to close within a certain period. This requirement leads to closing landfill slopes in phases, normally referred to as partial closure. Generally, partial closures start from the bottom of the landfill slope up to a certain elevation, with geosynthetics in the final cover temporarily anchored along the partial closure’s sides and upper boundary. Engineers propose different designs for securing the lower boundary of partial closures at the bottom of the landfill slope. Some engineers propose an anchor trench outside the bottom lining system anchor trench to secure the final cover geosynthetics. Others specify welding the cover geomembrane to the bottom lining system geomembrane.
Anchor Trench for Final Cover Geosynthetics at the Bottom of the Slope
Experience with anchor trenches at the bottom of the landfill slope for the final cover geosynthetics has not been positive because of these issues:
Landfill gas may escape through the opening between the bottom lining system anchor trench and the final cover anchor trench.
Leachate seeps below the final cover geomembrane that reaches the bottom of the landfill slope may penetrate the landfill perimeter berm through the opening between the two anchor trenches.
High concentrations of landfill gas may be detected along the landfill perimeter berm at the location of the two anchor trenches during surface emissions monitoring.
If high leachate levels are developing inside the landfill cell, landfill leachate may escape through the opening between the two anchor trenches.
Welding of Final Cover Geomembrane to the Bottom Lining System Geomembrane
To eliminate the issues above, engineers weld the final cover geomembrane to the bottom lining system geomembrane for cases when there is a bottom lining system below the waste. The welding completely seals the landfill interior space from the outside environment and keeps regulated materials, such as waste, leachate, and gas, within the sealed system. Of course, the engineer should design proper means to address these behind the sealed system; designs may include:
A leachate toe drain system below the final cover geomembrane at the bottom of the landfill slope to collect and convey leachate seep liquids to the leachate collection system at the bottom of the landfill.
A suitable landfill gas collection system below the final cover geomembrane, at the lower boundary of the landfill slope, collects gases accumulating in the area.
This is an important consideration because the closest gas collection well may be over 250 ft. away, up on the slope.
A rainwater toe drain system above the final cover geomembrane, at the bottom of the landfill slope, collects and drains the water in the final cover geocomposite.
Leachate Toe Drain System (LTDS)
Leachate toe drain system is a concept originally developed by SCS and incorporated into landfill final cover designs over the past 20 years. Unfortunately, many solid waste engineers are unaware of the need for LTDS, so their designs lack this important feature. LTDS saves a tremendous amount of repair money in the long run by avoiding complications for landfill operators.
Rainwater Toe Drain System (RTDS)
A rainwater toe drain system removes water that moves laterally within the final cover geocomposite toward the slope’s bottom. The RTDS includes a perforated HDPE pipe encased in gravel and wrapped in geotextile. Also, install the RTDS on terraces along the depression on the interior side of the terrace. Along the landfill slope’s bottom, position the RTDS behind a HDPE flap welded to the final cover geomembrane. The RTDS is sloping with high and low points along the RTDS alignment. Lateral drain pipes located at low points remove water from the RTDS to the perimeter ditches.
Other designs involving extending the geocomposite to daylight at the slope surface cause problem such as those listed below:
Excessive vegetation impacts the opening of the geocomposite at the outlet edge.
Soil erosion from higher-ups clogs the opening of the geocomposite at the outlet edge.
Algae grow at the opening of the geocomposite at the outlet edge.
Gradual discharge of water from geocomposite softens the perimeter berm soils in the vicinity of the outlet edge.
Water percolates into the landfill perimeter berm and causes stability issues; and
A slippery surface develops along the outlet edge on top of the landfill perimeter berm, creating a health and safety issue for landfill personnel.
Similar issues can also occur at the outlet of such systems on landfill terraces, making the RTDS a superior design.
Landfill owners who are aware of the associated features mandate their inclusion to ensure their landfill final covers’ long-term superior performance.
About the Author:
Ali Khatami, Ph.D., PE, LEP, CGC, is a Project Director and a Vice President of SCS Engineers. He is also our National Expert for Landfill Design, Construction Quality Assurance, and Elevated Temperature Landfills. He has over 40 years of research and professional experience in mechanical, structural, and civil engineering.
Posted by Diane Samuels at 6:00 am
SCS Advice from the Field: Long Term Performance of Landfill Final Covers
There are several hundreds of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) landfills in the United States. Many of these landfills are anticipated to remain active for decades to come, and Federal and state rules require slopes reaching permitted final elevations to be closed within 180 days. This means partial closure of slopes is part of the operational requirements of MSW landfills.
Federal and State Rules
Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted on October 21, 1976, requires the final cover of MSW landfills to include a barrier layer with hydraulic conductivity that is substantially equivalent to or less than the hydraulic conductivity of the bottom liner. State-level regulations developed following the enactment of the federal law also required similar standards for MSW landfills. Many states, pursuing the federal guidelines, require at a minimum, the bottom lining system of MSW landfills include at least one primary barrier layer consisting of Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE). Naturally, the final cover barrier layer should also be PVC, HDPE, LLDPE as well.
According to the Federal and state regulations, following the completion and closure of a MSW landfill, the facility owner maintains the landfill for a minimum of 30 years beyond the final closing date. Extension of the long-term care period beyond the 30-year post-closure period is a hot subject among solid waste professionals. Some states have already implemented matrices for such time extensions; it is anticipated that the remaining states will require similar extensions for MSW landfills over the next several years. Even if regulatory agencies approve completion of the post-closure period for a specific landfill, the landfill’s final cover system is expected to perform for many more years to come. Otherwise, environmental issues associated with a lack of performance may force the regulatory agency to spend money for repairs no longer available through a financial instrument.
Long-Term Performance Designs
For the past few decades, SCS has specifically designed and permitted final cover systems with special features to prolong the final cover system’s performance beyond the post-closure period of the landfill. The final cover system designs:
Maximize available airspace in the landfill,
Simplify waste placement in the vicinity of the exterior landfill slopes,
Simplify stormwater management components over landfill slopes,
Effectively collect and remove rainwater percolating through the final cover soils,
Collect lateral leachate seeps below the final cover barrier layer, and
Effectively encapsulate landfill gas at the landfill perimeter.
The first partial final cover with these features was constructed in 1998, and since then, many more partial closures with these types of features have been constructed. All partial closures are performing satisfactorily without failure. Regular maintenance of the final cover vegetation and occasional cleaning of drainage swales, which are common maintenance activities, have been the only measures taken by the operators of the facilities with these final cover systems.
The features incorporated into the final cover systems were:
Straight 3H:1V slopes to the top of the landfill with no benches or terraces, providing benefits such as maximizing airspace; eliminating complications during filling of the landfill near exterior slopes; allowing final surface water drainage swales to be constructed during the construction of the final cover which provides flexibility for the swale locations, swale slopes, drainage points of swales on the slopes; and downchute pipes that do not require complicated geometric features at the point of connection to drainage swales on the slope;
A leachate toe drain system (LTDS) collecting and disposing of leachate seeps below the final cover geomembrane reaching the bottom of the landfill slope; and
A rainwater toe drain system (RTDS) collecting and draining out of the final cover the rainwater that percolates through the final cover reaching the cover system geocomposite drainage layer.
The features above have financial, performance, and stability benefits for the facility for many years to come. So far, such final covers have been constructed on 3H:1V slopes as long as 550 ft. in length with no terraces. Several of the completed final covers were partial closures on a 3H:1V slope, where the next phase was constructed directly above a previous phase with the two phases tied together at the phase boundary.
Proper design and planning for the construction of partial final covers are significantly important for the long-term performance of landfills during the active life, post-closure period, and beyond.
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