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Modelling the impact of total stress changes on groundwater flow



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The research study involved using the modified FEMWATER code to investigate the impact of total stress changes on groundwater flow in the vicinity of a salt tailings pile. Total stress and pore-pressure data observed at the Lanigan and Rocanville potash-mine sites were used to assist the development of a generic FEMWATER model. The original 3-D mesh considered for model study covers a region of 7.6 km x 7.6 km x 60 m. The simulated pile itself covers a surface area of 1.6 km x 1.6 km within the region. Symmetry of the idealized system allowed half of the system to be modelled to reduce the size of the mesh. The model was layered to facilitate different materials representing different hydrostratigraphic scenarios. The GMS-release of the FEMWATER code (version 2.1) was modified to simulate the pore-pressure response to total stress changes caused by tailings pile loading at the ground surface to be modelled. The modified code was verified before applying to present study.Long-term pore pressure generation and dissipation due to pile construction was investigated for eleven hydrostratigraphic scenarios consisting of plastic clays, stiff till and dense sand layers commonly found in Saskatchewan potash mining regions. The model was run for two distinctive pile loading patterns. Model results indicated that the loading pattern has a significant influence on pore pressure generation beneath the pile. The model was initially run for 30 year pile construction period and later simulated for 15, 25 and 35 year construction periods to investigate the impact of loading rate. These results showed that, as expected, the peak pore water pressure head is proportional to the pile construction rate. A sensitivity analysis, which was carried out by changing hydraulic conductivity of stiff till, revealed that the lower the hydraulic conductivity, the greater the pore pressure generation beneath the pile.Overall, the research study helped to understand and predict the influence of pile construction and hydrostratigraphy on pore-pressure changes beneath salt tailing piles. Low K/Ss or cv materials (compressible tills) demonstrate a slow dissipation rate and high excess pressures. Compared to dense sand which has very high K/Ss, till has very low K/Ss which causes in high excess pore pressure generation. Sand layers act as drains, rapidly dissipating pore pressures. Thicker low K/Ss units result in slower dissipation and higher pressures. As the thickness of the low K/Ss layer increases, the peak pressures increase as the drainage path lengthens. Thin plastic clay layers give rise to the highest pressures.The model study showed that hydrostratigraphic scenarios similar to those found at Saskatchewan potash mine sites can generate the high pore pressures observed in the vicinity of salt tailings piles as a result of pile loading. Peak pressures are very sensitive to pile construction rates, loading patterns and hydrostratiagraphy of the region. Peak pressures can reach levels that would be of concern for pile stability on the presence of adverse geological conditions.



Groundwater Flow Model, Total Stress Change, Verification Studies, FEMWATER



Master of Science (M.Sc.)


Civil Engineering


Civil Engineering


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