Whether called a core trench, cut-off wall, vertical barrier, or containment curtain, the premise remains essentially the same – creating a vertically-oriented hydraulic obstruction to prevent the lateral migration of water (and/or contaminant). In the context of an earthen dam rehabilitation, such an installation is intended to control surface/basin water and groundwater seepage through and under the existing berm. For environmental applications, a trench may be installed down gradient of a known contaminant source (e.g. a landfill) to prevent the migration of contaminated water off site or up gradient of a contaminated zone to prevent the flow of non-contaminated groundwater through the impacted area.
Conventional geotechnical methods vary but typically involve the excavation of a narrow trench, generally three to five feet wide, that is keyed into a low-permeable native substratum (i.e. clay) to form a continuous barrier. Clayey soils or engineered backfill of low hydraulic conductivity are then placed into the trench to complete the cut-off.
Traditional backfills range from unaltered clayey soils to bentonite-based liquid slurries and grouts to soil-cement-bentonite mixtures. Inherent challenges with these most commonly used materials include:
In many cases, a backfill material with more structural strength is desired, particularly where subsurface flow rates are high, surrounding soils are less stable, or where loads must be supported (e.g. atop earthen dams or dikes). At 80% solids by weight, AquaBlok behaves much like the crushed stone aggregate that makes up its core composition.
As a ready-mixed blend of high-grade, Wyoming-derived sodium bentonite wrapped over individual stones, the AquaBlok product balances extremely low permeability (10-8 to 10-9 cm/s) with consistent structural integrity at a known and consistent ratio. Stable barriers can be achieved with as little as a 4-inch trench thickness, depending on trench depth and surrounding soil characteristics. However, the typical AquaBlok cut-off wall is designed to be 12 to 24-inches thick to accommodate standard equipment and to achieve required trench depths. Even at these dimensions the reduction in trench width compared to conventional methods minimizes site disturbance, reduces material handling quantities, and lowers installation costs. No field blending or specialized conveyance equipment is required, adding to the ease of installation. Material can be simply gravity dropped into a trench, even if water is actively filling the trench.
Once the material is in place, full hydration and swell can take days or even weeks depending on availability of source water. As the clay expands to fill internal pore space between the individual stones, it also swells laterally to self-key and form a durable bond with the trench’s side walls.
Long-reach excavator and radial trenchers (e.g. Ditch Witch®) are the most commonly utilized machinery for excavation of the trench. Material can either simply be gravity-dropped from its shipping bag, poured in using a payloader bucket, or conveyed into a trench from a stone slinger.
A dry bulk density of 90-lbs/ft3 along with the trench dimensions – length (L) x depth (D) x width (W) are all that are necessary to calculate material need.
Example: A vertical cut-off wall that is 25-feet long (L) x 10-feet deep (D) x 1-foot wide (W) = 250 ft3 @ 90-lbs/ft3 = 22,500 lbs or 11.25 tons or 9.4 bulk bags (at 2,400-lbs/bulk bag)
Many engineers and contractors will add a safety factor to account for variation in trench width (for the example described above, +5% would add 1,125-lbs to the 22,500-lbs estimated for a total of 23,625-lbs). At 2,400-lbs per bulk bag, the material need for this example would be just shy of ten (10) bulk bags.