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Basis for technical guidance to evaluate evapotranspiration covers

September 1, 2022

This report provides technical guidance to evaluate evapotranspiration (ET) cover design criteria with emphasis on applications to long-term disposal sites such as Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978 (UMTRCA) sites. Water balance covers, also known as ET covers, reduce percolation by storing precipitation then allowing vegetation to cycle it back to the atmosphere. For long-term (over 200 years) waste isolation, ET covers may provide significant benefits over conventional, resistive covers that rely on engineered components, such as compacted clay barriers and geomembranes, to divert precipitation. UMTRCA covers were designed to impede and attenuate radioactive radon-222 gas flux from the underlying tailings, while minimizing percolation of any contaminants to groundwater. Such covers have implicit regulatory compliance post-construction. Alternative cover systems, such as ET covers, must explicitly meet some anticipated performance, and demonstrate beneficial use. While all engineered structures will change over time, an ET cover evolves with nature rather than resisting it, which may perpetuate a more reliable waste isolation system. For example, UMTRCA sites must provide safe and environmentally sound disposal, long-term stabilization, and control of uranium mill tailings and remain effective for up to 1,000 years, to the extent reasonably achievable, and, in any case, for at least 200 years. UMTRCA covers rely on the engineered properties to meet regulatory requirements during and immediately after construction. Subsequent compliance is implicit in the design. The design of an ET cover is far more dependent on mesoscale meteorology, native vegetation, and edaphic soil properties which are site-specific. Therefore, the design and anticipated performance of an ET cover must be demonstrated through a combination of modeling, natural analogues and pilot studies, and then verified with monitoring data. There is no single ET cover design that can likely meet performance standards across different climates, available soils, and vegetation. The technical information presented in this report reviews guidelines and performance criteria commonly used for ET covers at municipal waste facilities and the consideration factors of such covers to meet the regulatory requirements at long-term disposal sites.

Publication Year 2022
Title Basis for technical guidance to evaluate evapotranspiration covers
Authors Todd Caldwell, Jena Huntington, Gwendolyn Elizabeth Davies, S. Tabatabai, M. Fuhrmann
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Number NUREG/CR-7297
Index ID 70233185
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center