B.M. Thomson1, E.J. Henry, and M.S. Thombre, Department of Civil Engineering, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, 87131, Phone: 505-277-4729, FAX: 505-277-1988, 1Email:

ABSTRACT The Shiprock uranium mill tailings pile in far northwestern New Mexico consists of approximately 1.5 million tons of uranium mill tailings from an acid leach mill which operated from 1954 to 1968. Located on land owned by the Navajo Nation, it was one of the first tailings piles stabilized under the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) project. Stabilization activities were completed in 1986 and consisted principally of consolidating the tailings, contouring the pile to achieve good drainage, and covering the pile with a multi-layer cap to control infiltration of water, radon emanation, and surface erosion. No ground water protection or remediation measures were implemented other than limiting infiltration of water through the pile, although a significant ground water contamination plume exists in the flood plain adjacent to the San Juan River. The major contaminants at the Shiprock site include high concentrations of sulfate, nitrate, arsenic, and uranium. One alternative for remediation may be the use of a permeable barrier in the flood plain aquifer. As proposed for the Shiprock site, the permeable barrier would be a trench constructed in the flood plain that would be backfilled with a media that is permeable to ground water, but would intercept or degrade the pollutants. Work to date has focused on use of a mixed microbial population of sulfate and nitrate reducing organisms. These organisms would produce strongly reducing conditions which would result in precipitation of the metal contaminants (i.e., Se(IV) and U(IV)) in the barrier. One of the first considerations in designing a permeable barrier is developing an understanding of ground water flow at the site. Accordingly, a steady state numerical model of the ground water flow at the site was developed using the MODFLOW code developed by the U.S. Geological Survey. This model was calibrated using data collected at a suite of monitoring wells at the Shiprock site and then used to simulate a variety of hydraulic alternatives. These alternatives included use of permeable barriers, use of a combination of impermeable and permeable barriers to achieve a "funnel and gate" effect, and manipulation of the hydraulic gradient in the flood plain through use of infiltration trenches to increase contaminant migration rates. A preliminary ranking system was developed to allow comparison of these alternatives which included length of the barriers, ground water velocities (and therefore aquifer flushing rates), and hydraulic gradient manipulation considerations.

KEYWORDS: ground water remediation, permeable barriers, modeling

This paper is from the Proceedings of the HSRC/WERC Joint Conference on the Environment, May 1996, published in hard copy and on the Web by the Great Plains/Rocky Mountain Hazardous Substance Research Center.

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