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Water Flow in Uncovered Waste Rock — A Multi-Year Large Lysimeter Study

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  • An intermediate scale (8 m × 8 m × 5 m high) constructed waste rock pile experiment was built upon a contiguous grid of 16 gravity drainage lysimeters to investigate the flow of water in unsaturated waste rock. Average net infiltration to the uncovered waste rock pile is 55 per cent of precipitation. Large rainfall events have net infiltration of 55 per cent to 85 per cent. Net infiltration estimates range from 23 to 120 per cent of precipitation between lysimeters. Small-scale lysimeters of less than 4 m2 area are shown to be poor predictors of net infiltration for uncovered waste rock. The appropriate size for lysimeters increases with increasing flow rate. The residence time distribution has an estimated median value of 3.0 to 3.9 years under average infiltration conditions. Water flows within the fine grained matrix, within larger pores (macropores), and in matrix free areas of the pile. In situ tracer concentrations vary between pore sizes, and between spatially distinct areas of the pile, indicating water geochemistry may also be variable. Water samples collected from in situ soil water samplers are dominated by the most mobile water fractions. In situ measurements of water content and matric suction are compared to the measured outflow. The data indicate the focusing of flow in spatially distinct areas can make in situ instrumentation a poor (non-conservative) predictor of volumetric water flow.

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