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VII

Slurry trench practice for diaphragm walls and cut-offs


A L LITTLE, BSc FICE (Geotechnical Consultant, Binnie and Partners)

1.

TheProgramme

conveniently divides the subjects of this section

into three:
1)

P r e c a s t concrete d i a p h r a g m walls.

2)

S l u r r y t r e n c h cut offs

3)

T h i n w a l l cut offs.

PRECAST
2.

CONCRETE

DIAPHRAGM

W A L L S

O v e r a b o u t the past 10 y e a r s , the u s e of p r e c a s t units in slurry

t r e n c h e s h a s d e v e l o p e d rapidly.

O n e contractor e s t i m a t e s that h e h a s

c o n s t r u c t e d a b o u t 153, 0 0 0 s q . m ,

of p r e c a s t p a n e l s in slurry t r e n c h

w i t h a further 1 2 , 0 0 0 s q . m ,

u n d e r construction,

constituting a b o u t 1 0 %

of his total d i a p h r a g m w a l l output ( L e Sciellour in d i s c u s s i o n o n N a s h ,


1974).
3

Presumably,

the p e r c e n t a g e is rising.

W h e n the slurry t r e n c h m e t h o d w a s first applied to s u p p o r t t r e n c h e s

for the construction of c o n c r e t e w a l l s w h i c h w e r e s u b s e q u e n t l y

exposed

b y excavation to f o r m p e r m a n e n t l y e x c a v a t e d a r e a s , b a s e m e n t s ,

under

p a s s e s a n d s o on, the finish of the e x p o s e d c o n c r e t e s o m e t i m e s left


s o m e t h i n g to b e d e s i r e d .

Apart from honeycombing,

partial collapse of

the sides of the t r e n c h d u r i n g e x c a v a t i o n left c o r r e s p o n d i n g

excrescences

of c o n c r e t e w h i c h h a d to b e r e m o v e d to p r o d u c e a n a c c e p t a b l e line of
wall.

T h e u s e of p r e c a s t units h a s b e e n a n i m p o r t a n t step f o r w a r d in

eliminating these c a u s e s for c o m p l a i n t .

A n o t h e r i m p o r t a n t benefit of

the u s e of p r e c a s t units, a s w e l l a s close control o v e r the c o n c r e t e


w h i c h c a n b e m a n u f a c t u r e d u n d e r factory rather than site conditions, is
that the r e i n f o r c e m e n t is not c o n t a m i n a t e d b y bentonite a n d a better
b o n d is obtained b e t w e e n r e i n f o r c e m e n t a n d c o n c r e t e , w i t h a c o n s e q u e n t
g r e a t e r strength of the c o m p l e t e d unit.

However,

f o r m a t i o n of satis

factory joints b e t w e e n individual p r e c a s t sections, a l w a y s a p r o b l e m in


slurry t r e n c h construction, r e q u i r e s particularly careful consideration
in p r e c a s t w o r k .

T h i s h a s b e e n solved b y using a self-setting slurry,

containing c e m e n t , w h i c h , o n c o m p l e t i o n of the w o r k ,

sets to f o r m a n

e r o s i o n resistant i m p e r m e a b l e layer b e h i n d the p r e c a s t units,


the joints b e t w e e n t h e m .

sealing

In o n e m e t h o d the self setting s l u r r y is intro

d u c e d a s a f r e s h m a t e r i a l after excavation u n d e r conventional slurry.


117

V I I

SLURRY

TRENCH

P R A C T I C E

L I T T L E

Where the same slurry is used throughout the operation, a suitable


retarder is added to the slurry to enable placement of the precast units
before the cement/bentonite slurry mixture sets. Once it has set, the
slurry provides an impermeable layer behind the precast unit wall
(surplus set slurry can easily be removed from the front of the wall
because the slurry even when set is always so m u c h softer than the
precast unit; if necessary, the precast panels can be coated with a suit
able preparation to facilitate the process). This self-setting slurry has
a wider and possibly more important application (see below in section 2)
which was probably not foreseen by the originators of it.
4. Many different forms of precast units have been divised by various
contractors. It is understood that a proposal has now been put forward
for a precast unit forming not only the walls but also the roof of a cut
and cover type of tunnel. Whether this proposal has been used anywhere
is not known but perhaps some m e m b e r s of the panel can say more about
it.
5. It is clear that the connections between precast units remain of
concern to the users who have more or less ingenious ways of connect
ing the units together. In the Prefasif method (SLF-Bachy) for example,
a latch on one panel, locks with a projection on the next one. The
Panosol method (Soletanche) relies on various forms of joggle joint
between the panels.
6. The wall formed by the precast units m a y be additionally supported
with ground anchors, thus leaving a clear space in the excavation, free
of strutting. I leave it to the various experts on the panel and to others
to describe, if they wish, different systems in more detail.
SLURRY T R E N C H CUT OFFS
7. The U. S Corps, of Engineers in September, 1945, began a series
of experiments on constructing slurry trench cut offs in Mississippi
River levees. Using a dragline, a depth of 35 ft was attained without
sloughing of trench walls although the ground water level was at 14 ft
down. Brig. General H. Kramer (Kramer, 1946) foresaw the use of
the method in the construction of cut offs & core walls for new earth
d a m s and levees of any height. Ensuing events have amply justified his
forecast.
8. One of the earliest applications to d a m construction of which this
writer is aware was at W a n a p u m on the Columbia River, U. S. A. , in
I960. A 10 ft wide trench using bentonite slurry was excavated by drag
line to a m a x i m u m depth of about 80 ft. Excavated gravel was backfilled
into the trench to form a cut off against a m a x i m u m impounded head of
88 ft (La Russo, 1963). Gravel backfills impregnated with slurry are
now less used in permanent works than other types of backfill.
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SLURRY TRENCH PRACTICE

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9
In 1964 a slurry trench subsequently backfilled with concrete was
excavated to a depth of more than 100 ft. to form a cut-off for the ZOO ft
high Allegheny d a m in Pennsylvania, USA. A rather elaborate constr
uction system was employed. After constructing a guide trench at
ground level, holes were drilled down to rock by percussion method at
either end of the panel to be excavated. The intervening material was
then removed with a clam shell. After excavation was completed, the
panel was backfilled by tremie with plasticised cement concrete having
a Z8 day strength of 3, 800 psi. Connecting spaces between panels were
excavated using a special expanding chisel, shaped to fit round the ends
of the panels already constructed. After excavation, this connecting
element was concreted. This rather involved method was adopted to
ensure verticality of the cut-off. In fact, only two of the guide holes
exceeded the tolerance of 6 inches and had to be corrected.
#

10. This method contrasts with the simpler approach which is usually
adopted nowadays. It would be interesting to have comments on the
general accuracy of slurry trench work.
11. Another early use of the slurry trench technique was in repair of
erosion damage to Balderhead d a m in 1968. This has been described
more fully elsewhere (Vaughan et al, 1970). Briefly, a 0. 6 m thick
slurry trench was excavated and backfilled with a cement/bentonite
("plastic") concrete in the rolled clay core of the embankment which
had been previously grouted with clay/ cement to minimise slurry losses.
In spite of the depth of 46.4m, the contractors were able to maintain
verticality of the slurry trench and land the bottom of it on a 60cm wide
flat top of a concrete cut off wall with a m a x i m u m error (which occur
red at one panel only) of about 150mm.
1Z. The same method was used to repair two older dams (c80 yrs old),
Lluest W e n and Withens Clough, where considerable seepage had been
taking place through their puddle clay cores (Little 1975). In both cases
a so-called plastic concrete mix with about 1. 3% bentonite added, was
used for backfill; additionally, at Withens Clough only, 16% of flyash
was used because of the highly corrosive nature of the reservoir water
(Arah, 1975).
13. Another use for the self setting slurry of the previous section has
already been mentioned. It was used, to form the cut off for a newly
constructed d a m in Singapore (Little, 1975). The d a m 90 ft. high above
its foundation level had to be constructed within an existing water supply
reservoir which could not be taken out of use. Because of water lower
ing problems, it was not considered feasible to excavate the soft layered
alluvium beneath the dam. Consequently a cut off had to be formed
through this alluvium. At the same time, large settlements of the d a m
and its foundations were anticipated so that a cut off was required of
119

VII

LITTLE

SLURRY TRENCH PRACTICE

sufficient flexibility to accommodate the resulting strains. It was


decided to use a self-setting slurry type of cut off as possessing the
necessary properties and at the same time providing an economic
solution. The average axial strain at peak stress of the set slurry at
90 days was about 3j%; the strength, depending on^the ambient triaxial
cell pressure, lay between 1, 800 and 2, 300 k N / m . The dam at Singa
pore was completed in 1975 and to date its performance as evidenced by
extensive instrumentation has been satisfactory.
14. A further development of the technique of the use of self setting
slurry has been described by Hetherington, Nelder and Puller (1975).
At the Alton Water Scheme, very long cut off wing walls were required
in the two abutments. Conventional methods of forming the wing walls
(including concrete backfilled slurry trenches) were found to be prohib
itively expensive and a cheaper method had to be devised. Accordingly,
a self setting slurry with excavated gravel backfilled into it was used;
this is reminiscent of the Wanapum operation, except that cement is
added to the slurry,
15. Cut offs have applications other than to embankment dams. Land
cofferdams, for example, frequently require cut offs. Here, the
concrete backfilled slurry trench can be used, not only to provide a
cut off to seal off ground water but also to provide support for the
excavation. At the Ullswater water pumping station, for example, in
1969, a 0. 9 m thick diaphragm wall circular in nJLan, 45m in dia., was
excavated to a m a x i m u m depth of 26, 8m. The wall was constructed as
a series of straight 4 m long panels. After concreting, the ground in
side the diaphragm wall was excavated to 20m and the pump house
constructed. In this daring design, no ring beams or other supports
were provided (Pawulski, 1975), For environmental reasons, the pump
house is entirely below ground and the top of it is soiled and seeded to
blend in with the landscape.

THIN W A L L C U T O F F S
16. In this technique, a mandrel, usually a steel joist section, is used
to penetrate the groundand a low pressure injection of clay/cement is
made into the space so formed. The result is a thin diaphragm which
nevertheless, usually has a minimum thickness two or three times that
of the forming mandrel.
17. The method was described by Maillard and Serota in 1963 in Grouts
and Drilling Muds in Engineering Practice. So far as this author knows,
the method was first used in this country in 1963 to form the cut off
round the "Pound" or intake pond for the River Ouse intake at the
Diddington scheme (Hammond and Winder 1967) Eight H-piles were used
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SLURRY TRENCH PRACTICE

VII

as the forming mandrels, leapfrogging each other to progress round the


pond perimeter. A total length of 1, 638 ft was driven though an average
of 13 ft of gravel and 4 ft into underlying clay. The operation was
sucessful and excavation of the gravel to form the pond was done with
very little pumping despite its proximity to the river.
18. At Diddington, the clay/cement injection was made as the mandrel
was withdrawn. In other methods, injections are made both during
driving of the mandrel and during its withdrawal.
19. Like many other European developed construction methods, the
thin wall cut off system has been subsequently adopted in U. S. A. with
improvements. A recent article (ENR, 1975) describes driving a 33
inch wide flange H beam at 190 lb/ft with a vibrating hammer. Injection
is done during driving and withdrawal. It is claimed that the injected
slurry has been improved by the addition of soda ash and a phosphate to
prevent cracking. A 14 inch fin welded to the beam flange forms a
tongue and grove joint between each section as the beam is driven with
a 4 inch overlap to the previous section. About 4, 200 sq ft of cut off is
formed per 24 hour shift. The bid price was $US3 per sq ft compared
with $US4 to 5 for a slurry trench operation.
20. Since the technique described in this section produces only a relat
ively thin membrane, it is clearly unsuitable for high hydraulic head
differences or under severely corrosive conditions. It would be helpful
to have some indication of extreme conditions under which the technique
has been successful.
4

CONCLUSIONS
21. The slurry trench technique can be used in ground where sheet
piling would fail; in some forms the slurry trench is cheaper. Its
introduction into civil engineering has conferred large benefits on the
industry. The ingenuity of engineers in marrying the technique with
others, such as precasting or ground anchors has greatly extended the
range of usefulness of the possible applications.
22. The success of the slurry trench method is largely due to the re
markable supporting power of fluids. Even in a soft clay, measure
ments in a 28m deep trench have shown negligible immediate deform
ation (10mm or less); even after 31 days, the reduction in trench width
was no more than 5 5 m m . Indeed, the investigators were bold enough
to suggest that the trench could probably have been excavated with water
as the supporting fluid, although clearly this would not work in more
permeable ground (Dibiagio and Myrvoll, 1972).
23. Costs are being reduced by competition and by improvements in
technique. A s a guide, this author uses the rough rule of thumb:
121

V I I

S L U R R Y

TRENCH

P R A C T I C E

L I T T L E

Unit Cost
Thin wall cut off
Self setting slurry in trench
Steel sheet piling
Plastic concrete backfilled in
slurry trench

1
2
4
8

C o m m e n t s on these ratios and on the value to be attached to the unit (a


difficult matter in these inflationary times) would be welcomed.
24. O n the debit side, this writer feels that the problem of joints has
not been completely solved. Considerable ingenuity has been shown by
various contractors in devising different means of forming joints,
although the stop end tube probably remains the commonest method, in
spite of its drawbacks.
25. Another problem which might merit consideration is the keying of
trenches into bedrock, especially when it is of varying degrees of hard
ness or where it is steeply sloping. Particularly in the last case,
fissures might be present which could lead to m u d losses and even
erosion after completion of the work, although this last is perhaps
rather outside the scope of this discussion.
26. Di sposal of used bentonite also poses problems. With the contin
ually mounting pressure from environmentalists, the problem is
increasing, particularly as the use of slurry trenches becomes more
widespread. At the last conference, only one participant seemed to
have discussed this problem. Are w e now in a position to make further
pronouncements ?
REFERENCES
Arah, R. M . , 1 9 7 5
Investigations, Problems and Remedial Works at Withens
Clough. Symposuim: Inspection Operation and Improvement of
Existing D a m s . Newcastle-upon-Tyne Paper 5 . 5 .
Dibiagio, E . and Myrvoll, F. 1972.
Full Scale Field Tests of a Slurry Trench Excavation in Soft
Clay. Fifth European Conf. on Structures Subject to Lateral Forces.
Madrid. Paper IV-3, p 461.
Fuquay, G. A. , 1966
Foundation Cutoff Wall - Allegheny Reservoir D a m A S C E .
H a m m o n d , T. G. and Winder, A. J. H. , 1967
Problems affecting the Design and Construction of the Great
Ouse Water Supply Scheme. Journal Inst. Water Eng. Vol. 21 p. 15
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Hetherington, J. S. , Nelder, B. , and Puller, MJ. , 1975


A Development in Slurry Trench Technique for Cut-Off
Construction. Ground Engineering November, 1975, p 16.
Kramer, H. , 1946
Deep Cut Off Trench of Puddled Clay for Earth D a m and Levee
Protection. Engineering News-record, 27 June 1946, p 76.
La Russo, R. S. , 1963
W a n a p u m Development - Slurry Trench and Grouted Cut Off.
Grouts and Drilling Muds in Engineering Practice, p 196. Butterwaths.
Little, A L
1975
In Situ Diaphragm Walls for Embankment D a m s .
Walls and Anchorages, I. C. E. , London, p 23.
0

Diaphragm

Nash, K., 1974


Stability of Trenches filled with Fluids and Diaphragm Wall
Construction Techniques. A S C E , Construction Division, Vol. 100, C04,
(Dec), pp 533, 605. Discussions by S. C. Doughty, A. Le Sciellour,
A. L. Little, Vol. 101, C02, C03.
Pawulski, M . , 1975
Discussion on pages 1 to 4. Diaphragm Walls and Anchorages,
ICE, London, p 29.
Vaughan et al, 1970
Cracking and Erosion of the Rolled Clay Core of Balderhead
D a m and the Remedial Works adopted for its repair. Tenth Int. Congr.
on Large D a m s . Montreal Q 36 R 5 p.

123'