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Are zero leaks with installed geomembranes possible?

Editorial | June 1, 2017 | By:

Abigail Gilson-Beck and Glen Toepfer step into a geosynthetics minefield in this issue of Geosynthetics with their article “Achieving zero leaks on a budget,” a goal that is controversial in the industry. Whether this goal should even be an objective is the question the debate hinges on.

A spirited discussion on this issue arose during a panel session on how to design your containment system for zero leaks by including geoelectric integrity tests. That discussion occurred at the 2017 Geotechnical Frontiers conference in Orlando, Fla., in March. Moderator Tim Bauters of Golder Associates got the session going with panelists Carl Charpentier of Group Alphard, John Heap of Colorado Lining International, Matthew Kemnitz of Leak Location Services, Richard Thiel of Thiel Engineering, and Glen Toepfer of CQA Solutions.

After presentations by the panelists, Bauters opened a question-and-answer session with the audience. Audience member George Koerner of the Geosynthetic Institute reacted strongly. “Zero leaks are not only possible, but should be an ambition of the industry,” he said. “I recognize that this is a very ambitious goal and that many states set action leakage rates of 5–10 gpad. However, I have seen very good liner system performance over time with a quality system approach as outlined by the EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory.”

But panelist Heap had concerns about setting so high a standard. “Guaranteeing zero leaks makes me uncomfortable,” he said. “It establishes an unrealistic expectation and sets the manufacturers and installers up for failure. That said, if the goal of zero leakage is understood and agreed upon by the owner, designer, engineer, construction company, and testing company on the team, then zero leakage is achievable but requires a full commitment by all parties and funding for the right products and testing to reach this goal.”

The discussion continued about the roles of manufacturers, installers, and construction quality assurance firms in assuring zero leaks; incorporating leak location into planning and design; and providing an inspection and long-term maintenance plan to the owner of the site.

In their article on page 16, Gilson-Beck and Toepfer expand on the ideas raised during the panel discussion, analyzing what they say is achievable and what is not. The debate continues, but this deliberation offers the industry a chance to investigate standards and make changes that can only improve things. After all, look how far we’ve come toward achieving zero leaks in the last 35 years.

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One response to “Are zero leaks with installed geomembranes possible?

  1. This is truly a minefield. The zero leak requirement should not be put out as a general achievable goal, as it will become the default for all projects. There is already numerous sites where payment has been withheld due to not fining a “blind”. The industry needs to be careful of what they wish onto themselves. Zero leak is really only justified on a small number of high risk projects.

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