Tailings and Mine Waste Conference

Tailings dams in Nevada : an overview Tortelli, G.; Opperman, L. 2015-10

Your browser doesn't seem to have a PDF viewer, please download the PDF to view this item.

Notice for Google Chrome users:
If you are having trouble viewing or searching the PDF with Google Chrome, please download it here instead.

Item Metadata


59368-Tortelli_G_et_al_Tailings_dams_TMW_2015.pdf [ 568.11kB ]
JSON: 59368-1.0320887.json
JSON-LD: 59368-1.0320887-ld.json
RDF/XML (Pretty): 59368-1.0320887-rdf.xml
RDF/JSON: 59368-1.0320887-rdf.json
Turtle: 59368-1.0320887-turtle.txt
N-Triples: 59368-1.0320887-rdf-ntriples.txt
Original Record: 59368-1.0320887-source.json
Full Text

Full Text

Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  Tailings dams in Nevada – an overview G. Tortelli  Golder Associates Inc. L. Opperman Nevada Division of Water Resources ABSTRACT If the State of Nevada were a country, it would rank as the eighth largest gold producer in the world (NMA, 2014). The state is also a significant producer of silver, copper, barite, lithium, and other minerals. Nevada currently has over 30 active tailings dams permitted through the Nevada Division of Water Resources (NDWR). A variety of conditions, including geology, seismicity, and climate present challenges to both the design and regulation of tailings dams in the state.  This paper provides an overview of historic and current regulations and design practices by combining the authors’ experience with information from the NDWR’s Safety of Dams Program database to present a general overview of the tailings dams in Nevada. The goal of the paper is to familiarize mine owners, regulators, and tailings dam designers with regulations and general engineering concepts currently used in Nevada. Keywords: regulation, safety, permit, design, stability 1. HISTORY OF MINE TAILINGS IN NEVADA 1849 - 1880s: The '49ers discover gold in Nevada and the famous Comstock Lode silver ore deposit is found in Virginia City. A silver and gold rush soon followed with many individual miners using sluicing and panning techniques to recover minerals. The Nevada Territory was inducted into statehood in 1864, in part so that the state’s gold and silver resources could finance the Union Army in the Civil War. 1890 - 1920s: The first mining renaissance begins. Stamp Mills become common and produce the first tailings. The early stamp mills deposited the tailings on the ground and the water was lost. Tailings dams were created to store the tails and more importantly to reuse the limited water resource. Early tailings dams were unregulated and haphazardly constructed. The working conditions around these dams were dangerous and environmental contamination was prevalent. Evidence of fugitive tailings at 11 historic sites indicates that catastrophic failure of abandoned mill tailings was more common in Nevada than has been reported in the literature.  1920s - 1970s: More silver and gold is discovered in Tonopah and Goldfield. Copper mining begins near Ely. World wars and industrial expansion revive significant demand for base metals. In 1962, the Carlin Trend gold deposit is discovered, sparking a resurgence in precious metals mining.  1980s - Present: The current mining boom is marked by the consolidation of mining companies and development of large, low-grade ore deposits. Initially, oxide ore is processed using heap leach technology. As close-to-surface oxide ore reserves are depleted, mining companies are increasingly digging deeper and processing low-grade sulfide ore using milling techniques. Residual tailings produced during processing are stored in modern engineered and regulated tailings impoundment facilities. The locations of active tailings dams in Nevada are shown on Figure 1. Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015   Figure 1. Active tailings dams in Nevada  2. TAILINGS DAM REGULATION IN NEVADA – PAST AND PRESENT 2.1 Dam Safety Regulation History The earliest laws pertaining to construction of dams were enacted in 1913 when the State Engineer required notification of any proposed dam construction. These laws were likely to protect downstream water users from being cut off after the erection of a new dam. These notices likely did not pertain to tailings dams since there were no regulations against placing tailings in streams prior to 1935 when greater water laws were adopted.  In 1951, Nevada Revised Statues (NRS) Chapter 535, specific to dams, was enacted marking the first time regulatory approval was needed for the construction of a dam. This statute also gave the State Engineer the authority to conduct inspections on dams for public safety. These new regulations also required operators to operate dam safely to protect downstream interests. The first dam permit specifically issued for a tailings dam was permit J-130, issued in 1971 for Cliffs Copper Corporation at the Rio Tinto Mine located north of Elko. The dam was 7 meters tall and impounded 390,000 m3 of “sludge resulting from treating acid mine water”. Eight other tailings dam applications had been submitted by 1980 to support copper, gold, and other mineral mining processes. These early tailings impoundments were designed and permitted with dam safety considerations, not specifically to prevent tailings waters from seeping into the environment.  In 2003, Nevada Administrative Code (NAC) Chapter 535 was developed for the regulation of dams, and tailings dams were given special consideration. This was the first time that submittal Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  of an application and the approval of plans for a tailings dam was defined for the first time in detail. A hazard classification system was written into the regulations and provided the State Engineer a way to categorize the immediate consequences to persons and property located downstream from the dam in the event of a dam failure. Dams are placed into one of the three following hazard classifications:  High Hazard - Failure carries a high probability of causing a loss of human life  Significant Hazard – Failure carries a reasonable probability of causing a loss of human life or a high probability of causing extensive economic loss or disruption in a lifeline.  Low Hazard - Failure carries a very low probability of causing a loss of human life and a low to reasonable probability of causing little, if any, economic loss or disruption in a lifeline. As used in these regulations “lifeline” included:  A road that is the sole means of access to a community  A major trunk or transmission line for gas or electricity, the disruption of which could pose significant risks to the public health, safety or welfare of the affected community  Transmission lines for gas or electricity that serves hospitals or other comparable facility.  In 2014, the definition of a lifeline was expanded to include any lake, reservoir, stream or watercourse that serves as a potable water supply, the possible disruption of which is to be considered when assigning a hazard classification to each dam. 2.2 Current Dam Safety Regulations In 2014, NAC Chapter 535 was updated and expanded to form the regulations that are currently in place today and enforced by the State Engineer through the Safety of Dams Program. Currently, the State Engineer oversees 54 active tailings dam permits through the Safety of Dams Program. However approximately 12 are in various stages of closure or reclamation and some are in various stages of phased construction. A list of tailings dams currently permitted in Nevada is shown below in Table 1. 2.2.1 Hazard Classification Report  As part of the permit application, a proposed dam owner is required to prepare a hazard classification report, which ultimately suggests the hazard classification and also further defines the requirements of an Emergency Action Plan for High and Significant hazard dams. The Emergency Action Plan: (1) must follow a format presented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency or approved by the State Engineer; (2) must address appropriate steps to be taken in the event of a potential or actual emergency at the dam; and (3) for those sections requiring numeric analysis, calculations or mapping, must be prepared under the direction of a professional engineer.   Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  Table 1: Active Tailings Dam Permits in Nevada Name Owner Length (m) Height (m) Storage (acre-ft)* Storage (m3) Primary Minerals Giroux  Quadra 3840 59 130,624 161,122,092 Cu N. block  Barrick 4938 158 103,194 127,287,735 Au, Ag Mill 5/6  Newmont  5700 91 85,000 104,845,800 Au, Ag Juniper  Newmont  6888 54 71,000 87,577,080 Au, Ag Mill 5/6 East Newmont 6103 67 67,500 83,259,900 Au, Ag Phoenix Newmont  7077 53 41,433 51,106,777 Au, Ag Mill 5/6 West  Newmont  437 64 35,661 43,987,130 Au, Ag Cortez Area 28 Barrick 4061 66 31,229 38,520,347 Au, Ag Cortez Cell 4 Barrick 3688 82 31,000 38,237,880 Au, Ag RMG West Round Mtn. Gold 4038 27 28,816 35,543,960 Au, Ag RMG cell B Round Mtn. Gold 4100 53 28,450 35,092,506 Au, Ag McCoy/Cove Premier Gold  4633 43 25,000 30,837,000 Au, Ag Jerritt Canyon  Jerritt Canyon  4267 45 24,000 29,603,520 Au, Ag Lone Tree Sec. 23 Newmont  2933 55 20,040 24,718,939 Au, Ag A-A Barrick 1727 67 17,054 21,035,768 Au, Ag Getchell Turquoise Ridge 1164 46 10,000 12,334,800 Au, Ag Paradise Peak FMC Gold 1097 40 8300 10,237,884 Au, Ag Mill 4 Dam 2 Newmont  2469 50 8264 10,193,479 Au, Ag Copper Canyon Newmont 2344 23 6900 8,511,012 Cu Mill 4 Dam 1 Barrick 1859 55 4878 6,016,915 Au, Ag Simplot Simplot 770 43 4400 5,427,312 Au, Ag Carlin Gold  Newmont  762 82 4030 4,970,924 Au, Ag Cortez No. 6 Barrick 2204 18 3988 4,919,118 Au, Ag Cortez No. 7 Barrick 2211 19 3673 4,530,572 Au, Ag Mill No. 3 Newmont  701 33 3200 3,947,136 Au, Ag No. 2 Jerritt Canyon 2247 33 2766 3,411,806 Au, Ag Tonkin Springs  Tonkin Springs  1272 20 2625 3,237,885 Au, Ag Cortez Cells 4 & 5 Barrick 2118 13 2417 2,981,321 Au, Ag Springer tungsten Springer 3094 5 2350 2,898,678 W Midas Phase 4 Klondex 1305 15 2008 2,476,828 Au, Ag Midas Phase 5 Klondex  576 46 2008 2,476,828 Au, Ag Yerington mill Arimetco 30 27 1166 1,438,238 Cu Simplot Raise Simplot 3048 30 1000 1,233,480 Si * Nevada Dam Safety regulations are based on acre-feet of storage. 1 acre-foot = 1233 cubic meters   Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015   2.2.2 INFLOW DESIGN FLOOD Currently, to obtain approval of the State Engineer, the plans and specifications must demonstrate that: (a) the dam and reservoir are able to accommodate the inflow design flood for the tributary watershed without the failure of the dam or any other unintended release of water. (b) the inflow design flood selected is appropriate given the intended purpose, hazard classification and size of the dam. The hazard based requirements are summarized as the probable maximum flood for High and large (>12 million m3) Significant hazard dams, a 1000 year return frequency for other Significant hazard dams and 100 year return frequency for all others. The State Engineer may approve plans that use an inflow design flood that is less than described above if the applicant provides an incremental damage analysis that demonstrates, to the satisfaction of the State Engineer, that a lesser event is appropriate.  2.2.3 Stability Analyses To obtain approval of the plans and specifications, calculations that concern the strength or stability of the dam must exceed a minimum factor of safety. The factor of safety:  (a)  If the calculation describes conditions of steady-state seepage static load, must not be less than 1.4; (b) If the calculation describes conditions of post construction static load, must not be less than 1.3;  (c)  If the calculation describes conditions of rapid reservoir draw down load, must not be less than 1.25; or  (d)  If the calculation describes conditions of seismic load, must not be less than 1.1, unless a deformation analysis showing adequate residual strength and retention of freeboard is provided. Additionally, the updated regulations specify that earthen slopes are not to be steeper than a horizontal-to-vertical (H:V) ratio of 3:1 or, if the embankment is free-draining rockfill, not steeper than 2:1. 2.3 Environmental Regulation The Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Mining Regulation and Reclamation (NDEP-BMRR), in cooperation with other state, federal, and local agencies, regulates mining activities under regulations adopted in 1989. The NAC 445A.350-447 and NAC 519A.010-415 were developed to implement the requirements of the NRS 445A.300-NRS 445A.730 and NRS 519A.010-290. Prior to the formation of BMRR in 1989, tailings and water pollution control was permitted without specific language for the mining industry.  2.3.1 Regulation Branch The Regulation Branch is responsible for protecting waters of the State under the water pollution control regulations. The branch consists of the permitting and inspection sections. The permitting section issues Water Pollution Control Permits (WPCP) to ensure that the qualities of Nevada’s water resources are not impacted by mining activity. The first WPCP was issued in 1990 and all active mines currently have active WPCPs. The inspection section conducts regular inspections during the life of a mining facility to confirm that operations are in compliance with permit requirements and include tailings impoundments.  2.3.2 Closure Branch The Closure Branch is responsible for protecting waters of the state under the water pollution control regulations during closure and post-closure. This branch works with facilities at the cessation of operations to ensure that all components are left chemically stable for the long term. The closure branch issues water pollution control permits and conducts inspections to ensure that the mine site, in the closure and post-closure period, will not degrade waters of the state.   Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015   2.3.3 Reclamation Branch The Reclamation Branch regulates exploration and mining operations in Nevada on both private and public lands. The branch issues permits to exploration and mining operations to reclaim the disturbance created to a safe and stable condition to ensure a productive post-mining land use. An operator must obtain a reclamation permit prior to construction of any exploration, mining or milling (including tailings disposal) activity that proposes to create disturbance over 20,000 m2 or remove in excess of 33,000 tonnes of material (ore plus overburden) from the earth in any calendar year. Aggregate or sand pit operations are excluded from obtaining a reclamation permit. In addition to obtaining a reclamation permit, an operator must file a surety with the Division or federal land manager to ensure that reclamation will be completed, should an operator default on the project. 2.4 Dam Inspections, Compliance, and Enforcement Within the Nevada Safety of Dams program there are over 600 permitted dams; of those, 130 are high hazard, 120 are significant hazard and 350 are low hazard dams. All high hazard dams are inspected annually. Significant hazard dams should be inspected once in every three years and low hazard dams once in every 5 years. In addition to the 52 currently active tailing dam permits, there are another 30 tailings dams that are pre-statutory (no permit) but are included in the inspection program.  A mine site may have multiple dam permits for any process ponds and storm event ponds in addition to a tailings storage dam which results in inspections typically every three years due to one of the dams being rated as a Significant hazard. The State Engineer may require the dam operator to conduct more frequent inspections and submit inspection reports. Dam operators may be required to submit quarterly or annual monitoring reports with detailed information from any subsurface monitoring equipment, survey results, drainage flow rates and other appurtenant data.  The NDEP- BMRR typically inspects mine sites with an active WPCP quarterly and is primarily concerned with the release of any fluids from any source. BMRR also requires reporting of subsurface monitoring equipment, survey results, drainage flow rates and other appurtenant data.  Both the State Engineer and the BMRR have the authority to require corrective actions or even halt active deposition of tails at an impoundment. In most cases mine operators and state regulators work together to avoid significant disruption to a mining process. In some severe cases, the authorization to impound may not be expanded or the WPCP may not be renewed, thus forcing a new tailings facility to be built with more modern practices. NDEP-BMRR has even issued fines for violations to their WPCP. 2.5 Future Regulation Trends The Safety of Dams program currently is predominantly concerned with the uncontrolled release of potential energy stored in a dam impoundment and issues related to environmental impact are regulated by the NDEP-BMRR. The concept of requiring a geochemical analysis of the water, tailings, or other fluid impounded by a dam has been considered. The results of the analysis would be used as part of the impact assessment in a dam break analysis and would influence the proposed dam’s hazard rating.  Other concepts under consideration for inclusion into future regulation updates include: evaluating the types of discharges allowed into tailings facilities, supernatant water pool extent and location management, and increasing minimum factor of safety required for seismic stability.   Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  3.  TAILINGS DAM DESIGN IN NEVADA The design of tailings dams is dependent upon many factors, including regional and site specific climate conditions, geology, site topography, geotechnical characteristics, regulatory requirements, and the goals and preferences of mine operators. This section provides a general overview of the natural conditions, design methodology, and engineering analyses currently used during the design of tailings dams in Nevada. Operation, maintenance, and monitoring of the tailings dam and impoundment are important topics but are beyond the scope of this paper. 3.1 Geology Nevada lies within the Basin and Range tectonic province of western North America. This province is a large region with a topography dominated by alternating north-south-trending, fault-bounded linear mountain ranges and linear, alluvium-filled basins that extend from southern Oregon and Idaho to northern Mexico. The province was first developed between about 12 and 25 million years ago during two major phases of extension and thinning of the Earth’s crust in western North America.  The mountain range fronts are commonly abrupt, steeply sloping, and deeply dissected; while the basins are typically broad, gently sloping, and largely undissected. The mountain ranges can be as much as 160 km long and 25 km wide with topographic relief generally ranging from about 500 m to 1500 m, while topographic relief in the basins is generally less than 500 m. The linear mountain fronts are formed by vertical displacement on normal-slip faults that result in uplift of the mountain ranges relative to the basins.  Erosion of the ranges has exposed cores comprising Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cenozoic sedimentary, volcanic, and metamorphic rocks. The intervening basins are filled with late Tertiary and Quaternary alluvial and lacustrine sediments. The edges of the basins at the range fronts are underlain by late Tertiary and Quaternary alluvial fan and fanglomerate sediments derived from erosion and transport of rocks within the fault-uplifted mountain ranges. 3.2 Climate The following Nevada regional climate discussion is an abbreviated summary from a narrative provided by the Western Regional Climate Center (WWRC, 2015) in Reno, Nevada. The WWRC maintains a database of climate information including temperature, precipitation, and evaporation collected at various stations throughout the western United States. The discussion focuses mainly on the Northern portion of the state where the majority of tailings dams are located. The mean annual temperatures in Nevada vary from the single digits to approximately 16° C in the south. In the northeast, summers are short and hot; winters are long and cold. In the west, the summers are also short and hot, but the winters are only moderately cold; in the south the summers are long and hot and the winters short and mild. Long periods of extremely cold weather are rare, but occur occasionally. There is strong surface heating during the day and rapid nighttime cooling because of the dry air, resulting in wide daily ranges in temperature. The average range between the highest and the lowest daily temperatures is about 16° to 20° C. Daily ranges are larger in summer than the winter. Extreme temperatures have ranged from 50° to minus 46° C. The freeze-free season varies from less than 70 days in the northwest and northeast to about 140 days in the west and south-central areas, to over 225 days in the south. Nevada lies on the lee side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The mountains create a “rain shadow” effect, causing ample rain on the west slope of the range, but very little precipitation in Nevada, which lies immediately to the east. In southern parts of the state, the average annual precipitation is less than 130 mm. It increases to over 450 mm in the Ruby Mountains near the Carlin Trend where many of the state’s active tailings dams are located and can exceed 40 inches in the Sierra Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  Nevada range. Variations in precipitation are due mainly to differences in elevation and exposure to precipitation-bearing storms. Snowfall is usually heavy in the mountains, particularly in the north. Twenty-four hour snowfall can amount to over 1100 mm, while seasonal totals of over 7500 mm have been recorded. Heavy summer thunderstorms occasionally cause locally heavy precipitation and flooding of local washes, and streams. 3.3 Seismicity Along with California and Alaska, Nevada is one of the most seismically active regions in the United States. Historical records show that magnitude 3 and 4 earthquakes regularly occur and are commonly felt, particularly in the central-western part of the state where most of the historic events have occurred (Figure 2). Although earthquakes occur at irregular intervals, magnitude (M) 6 and greater earthquakes have occurred in Nevada about one every ten years. Geologically young faults (movement in the last 15,000 years or so) have been the sources of the largest historical earthquakes. These faults are found throughout the state. For example, three strong earthquakes occurred within about 7 hours in October 1915 in Pleasant Valley in northern Nevada. The largest earthquake had an estimated magnitude of more than 7. 5, and was associated with a fault scarp 1.5 to 4.5 m high and 22 35 km long at the base of the Sonoma Mountains. Similar large earthquakes and variable surface fault ruptures occurred in 1932 and 1934. In 1954, a cluster of earthquakes, including an M 7.1 earthquake near Dixie Valley, resulted in about 6 to 20 feet (2 to 6 m) of vertical movement and about 3 to 14 ft (1 to 4 m) of horizontal movement near Fairview Peak.  Figure 2. Earthquake epicenters from 1880 through 2012 Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  Nevada’s historic record of both frequent earthquake shaking and large fault displacements needs careful consideration when planning for tailings dams and other mine infrastructure. Initial estimates of ground shaking can be estimated using state-wide and national models, and the locations of Quaternary (last 2.6 million years) active faults is available for all of Nevada. Site-specific studies are used to evaluate the potential for fault rupture, like that seen in 1915 and 1954, to damage critical facilities. Similarly, estimates of earthquake shaking are adjusted for the actual conditions at the site. Earthquake ground shaking estimates for the long return periods of interest (up to 10,000 years) for critical mining facilities is assessed using detailed information on the activity of faults close (~80 km) to the site. 3.4 Embankment Design Other than the Robinson Mine’s large copper tailings dam in eastern Nevada, the majority of the larger active tailings dams in Nevada are associated with gold tailings. The milling process for gold extraction generally produces tailings with particle sizes in the silt/clay range. These tailings have low strength and are too fine to be cylone-separated for use in embankment construction. Therefore, tailings dams in Nevada are typically constructed using mine waste or borrowed alluvial material.  Unlike water dams, tailings dams are typically built in stages to minimize up-front capital costs and to limit exposure of liner materials to the elements. The three prevalent concepts for embankment design are Downstream, Centerline, and Upstream Construction. The use of downstream, centerline, or upstream construction pertains to how the embankment is increased in elevation through staging of construction. The final selected section may also be some hybrid combination of these general sections as needed for cost effectiveness, operation, embankment stability, or reclamation planning. 3.4.1 Downstream Construction In downstream construction, a small starter dam is initially constructed. Subsequent staged construction involves first constructing an extension against the downstream slope then extending the embankment up to the new crest elevation as shown in Figure 3.  Figure 3. Downstream Embankment Section The embankment can be constructed with internal zones to provide both impermeable barriers and drains. Staged construction can also be designed to construct two or more downstream stages in a single construction season, requiring only periodic raises to the crest of the embankment. The primary benefit to downstream construction is low risk of instability in all types of operating and environmental conditions. Such an embankment is very safe with respect to stability, so is often used in areas of moderate to high seismicity such as in Nevada. It is also considered when a mine is developed with a single tailings impoundment, and the risk of stopping the mill to repair an unstable embankment section is intolerable. A downstream construction embankment can be constructed using a wide variety of soil or rock materials, but also can be constructed of low strength soils that might preclude use of centerline or upstream construction methods. Raise construction of downstream construction embankments can occur through the winter months in Nevada, while building over tailings for centerline and upstream raises necessitates that Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  embankment construction over the tailings be completed in warm and dry summer and fall months only. If designed as a reservoir, downstream constructed dams can impound water, as in the case where the impoundment is used for seasonal water storage (during wet seasons), or where the tailings deposition plan involves ponding of water against the embankment face. This robust design allows flexibility of operation of the impoundment. Since the embankment is not constructed over the tailings as with the other two methods, it is not as critical to manage the tailings to form drained tailings beaches against the upstream slope of the embankment. A lining system can easily be constructed on the upstream slope of the embankment, keeping the embankment free of water and making a very stable configuration. For centerline and upstream construction methods, liners are typically placed below the embankment, allowing the embankment above the liner to pass water draining from the tailings. The main drawback of using downstream construction is the large volume of engineered fill required to construct the embankment. However, downstream construction can still be economically competitive with other construction methods if coupled with innovative design concepts, a thoughtful tailings management plan, and a close source of mine waste material to construct the embankment. Downstream construction works well if the dam can be sited close to a pit where mine waste can be placed directly into the embankment using the mine’s haulage equipment. Downstream construction methods are widely used in Nevada, especially in tailings impoundments having continuous geomembrane liners and supernatant pools located adjacent to a lined slope.  3.4.2 Centerline Construction Centerline construction is a method that combines elements of downstream and upstream construction and has a design goal of reducing engineered embankment requirements to less than that of downstream raises and reducing stability risks to less than those associated with upstream raises. The geometry of a centerline raise embankment is shown in Figure 4.  Figure 4. Centerline Embankment Section The centerline construction method requires a starter embankment of similar size and geometry as that of the other two methods. Subsequent staged raises require both building over the recently-placed tailings and expanding the embankment width on the downstream slope. Centerline construction balances construction cost with stability risk. It has been used successfully in regions with moderate to high seismicity. As with the upstream construction method, centerline construction relies on a strict tailings management and deposition plan, and building embankments over the tailings requires that the tailings in the tailings beach adjacent to the embankment have undergone some strength increase through desiccation drying. Staging of embankment raises requires close scheduling to build the tailings as close in elevation to the previous-stage embankment crest as possible, while balancing construction over the tailings to warm, dry months. Construction can be staged so that the Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  downstream portion of the embankment is only constructed every two to three lifts, which can also allow concurrent reclamation of the downstream slope prior to cessation of infilling. Centerline construction is a widely used method of constructing tailings dams in Nevada.  3.4.3 Upstream Construction The upstream construction method requires a starter embankment of similar size and geometry as that of the downstream construction method, so initial capital costs between the two methods are often the same. Subsequent staged raises, however, rely on constructing the embankment higher in elevation by constructing over the recently placed tailings adjacent to the embankment as shown in the Figure 5.  Figure 5. Upstream Embankment Section This method results in a relative cost savings through a lower engineered embankment volume. Cost therefore becomes the primary driver in using upstream construction. This type of construction relies on a strict tailings management and deposition plan, often referred to as thin sub-aerial deposition. Building embankments over the tailings requires that the tailings in the tailings beach adjacent to the embankment have undergone some strength increase through desiccation drying. Further, the beach must be relatively free of standing water. If these conditions are not met, construction becomes difficult and dangerous, so embankment construction must often be scheduled during dry summer and fall months. If dry tailings beach conditions are not achieved, placement equipment can sink into the tailings and the embankment could fail into the tailings. Embankment failures have occurred during placement of upstream raises.  The tailings management plan for embankments staged using upstream construction focuses on spigoting tailings from the embankment to force the supernatant pool to the center of the impoundment or to an opposite embankment that has been constructed using downstream construction methods. Another benefit of using upstream construction is that downstream slope of the dam can be reclaimed concurrent with the embankment raise. Upstream methods have been used successfully in arid climates, including Nevada, generally on dams with relatively low embankment heights or to “top off” a tailings dam to provide additional capacity. Because much of the embankment is constructed on weak and compressible tailings, use of upstream construction methods often result in embankments that have a higher risk of instability than those designed with downstream or centerline construction. Many of the tailings embankments where failures have occurred internationally within the past 20 to 30 years have incorporated upstream construction methods. 3.4.4 Hybrid Embankment Systems Tailings dams are often constructed using hybrid systems of embankments, where one method of embankment construction is suitable for one portion of the dam and another embankment construction method is suitable for the remaining portions. An example would be where the tailings pool is managed into a corner of the impoundment against a dam that has been constructed using downstream construction methods, while upstream or centerline construction methods are used for the remaining segments of the embankment where beach areas can be controlled. Another hybrid system incorporates a rock dump or heap leach pad into one or more sections of the Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  embankment, which ultimately reduces the amount of placed engineered fill in the embankment. Hybrid embankment systems are commonly in use in Nevada. 3.5 Geotechnical Analyses The geotechnical stability of tailings dams are typically modeled using a two-dimensional limit equilibrium stability model such as SLIDE (RocScience 2011). The program allows for potential sliding surfaces in a stability section to be either pre-selected or automatically generated. SLIDE allows use of multiple methods of static and pseudo-static (earthquake load) analyses which vary depending on assumptions used for equilibrium in the model. Typically, Spencer’s Method of Slices (Spencer 1967) analyses both circular and block failure surfaces, which satisfies conditions of horizontal and vertical equilibrium, as well as moment equilibrium, is chosen as the method of analyses. Deformation analyses are performed to determine the dynamic response of the dam to earthquake loading. Deformation analyses are required by the NAC for dams having pseudo-static factors of safety less than 1.1. A one-dimensional deformation model such as SHAKE2000 (Ordóñez 2011) applies an earthquake acceleration time history acting on the dam modeled as a series as horizontal layers to represent site conditions. Foundation settlement analyses are used to determine the magnitude of foundation settlement resulting from the initial embankment construction and future loading from tailings deposition and subsequent phased embankment raises. Dependent upon the foundation material, immediate settlement, consolidation settlement, and secondary compression are evaluated. The results of settlement analyses are used to design pipe slopes for the underdrain collection system and assess embankment and lining system integrity over the life of the facility. 3.6 Liner and Underdrain Collection Systems Current Nevada Regulations (NAC 445A.437) require a minimum lining system comprised of at least a 12-inch thickness of soil with a compacted hydraulic conductivity (permeability) of not higher than 1 x 10-6 centimeters per second (cm/sec). The regulations require a more stringent lining system if a condition of near-surface ground water exists beneath the facility. In reality, the NDEP has not issued a permit for a new tailings dam in recent years that does not include a geomembrane liner. Although there are a variety of products available, the industry standard geoembrane liner in Nevada is an 80-mil High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) geomembrane. The 80-mil thickness provides a liner that is extremely durable yet flexible and easy to install.  Geosynthetic Clay Liner (GCL) comprised of a thin layer of low-permeability clay sandwiched between geotextile sheets, is sometimes used as a secondary liner or to provide a suitable bedding for geomembrane placement over a rough subgrade. GCL’s are subject to shrinking, cracking, and ultraviolet light degradation when exposed so they are generally not considered suitable for use as a primary liner.  An underdrain collection system consisting of a network of perforated pipes regularly spaced over the liner and bedded in gravel is installed to reduce the hydraulic pressure on the geomembrane liner, promote two-way drainage and consolidation of the tailings material, and speed the recovery of water for reuse in the process circuit. Water collected by the underdrain system passes by gravity beneath the dam to a return water pond or tank and is pumped to the mill for reuse in the process circuit. 4. SUMMARY The State of Nevada is a significant producer of precious metals and mineral resources. The state has a rich mining history that includes over 100 years of mine tailings production. Tailings dams Proceedings Tailings and Mine Waste 2015 Vancouver, BC, October 26 to 28, 2015  in the state are regulated by the NDWR through the Safety of Dams Program and by the NDEP-BMRR through the Water Pollution Control Permit. Nevada is located in an arid, seismically active region. Current practices in tailings dam and impoundment design are based on site constraints, risk management, regulatory requirements, and owner preferences. Modern tailings impoundments designed and permitted in the state incorporate geomembrane liners and underdrain systems for environmental containment. During the design process, detailed analyses of the embankment are performed to promote geotechnical stability under both static and seismic loading conditions. 5. REFERENCES Nevada Mining Association (2014) Nevada mining industry global mineral production: where Nevada  stands. Available at: http://www.nevadamining.org/issues_policy/pdfs/NMA-01mineral-v8.pdf  (Accessed 27 August 2015) Ordóñez, G (2011) SHAKE2000 User’s Manual. July 2011 Revision Rockscience (2012) SLIDE v. 6.0 – 2D Limit Equilibrium Slope Stability Analysis, Rockscience, Inc. Toronto, Ontario Spencer, E (1967) A method of analysis of the stability of embankments assuming parallel inter-slice forces. Geotechnique, 17(1), 11-26 Western Regional Climatic Center (2015) Climate Narratives by State - Climate of Nevada. Available at: http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/narratives/nevada/ (Accessed 27 August 2015). 


Citation Scheme:


Citations by CSL (citeproc-js)

Usage Statistics



Customize your widget with the following options, then copy and paste the code below into the HTML of your page to embed this item in your website.
                            <div id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidgetDisplay">
                            <script id="ubcOpenCollectionsWidget"
                            async >
IIIF logo Our image viewer uses the IIIF 2.0 standard. To load this item in other compatible viewers, use this url:


Related Items