Commentary & Articles

Landfill Closure and Reclosure

by Mark Wasser, September 2011

We just settled a case involving the closure of a county landfill.  We represented the county.  “Closure” is a special term that refers to the process of sealing a landfill against water that might flow down through the trash and leach harmful chemicals into the groundwater.

The county had retained an engineering firm to design the closure for its landfill.  The firm prepared a design that specified the use of clay in a cover that would be constructed over the landfill.  Clay is relatively impervious and, when properly applied, effectively seals against water.  The cover the engineering firm designed was 3 feet thick. 

The closure was constructed according to the engineer’s plans but, almost immediately after it was completed, began showing signs of failure.  The clay began to crack and some areas began to slough or slide.  The cracks grew wider and deeper, despite the county’s maintenance efforts, and eventually some of the cracks were 8 inches wide and almost 30 inches deep.  These cracks allowed water to penetrate deeply into the clay cover and soften the clay.

About 6 months after the closure was completed, the clay began to slide off the slopes where it had been placed.  Eventually, the clay on three of the four slopes at the landfill failed and slid off.  This left the trash unprotected against rainwater and placed the county in violation of State regulations that require landfills to be properly closed.

The county had no choice but to close the landfill again.  It hired a different engineering firm that prepared a new closure plan and the new closure was constructed.  Closing the landfill the second time was very expensive and the board of supervisors wanted to recover this additional expense from the first engineering firm.

After carefully investigating the reasons the first closure failed, we were able to demonstrate the design prepared by the first engineering firm was defective because it was based on faulty analysis of the clay and failed to include appropriate protection for the clay.

The engineering firm agreed to pay the county a substantial settlement that will allow the county to recover much of the cost it was forced to bear as a result of having to close the landfill twice.

Email Your Comment

Name *
Email *




Law Offices of Mark A. Wasser

400 Capitol Mall
Suite 2640
Sacramento, California 95814

Office: 916.444.6400
Fax: 916.444.6405