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Abstract

Infiltration of surface water through mine waste can be an important or even dominant source of contaminants in a watershed. The Waldorf mine site in Clear Creek County, Colorado, is typical of tens of thousands of small mines and prospects on public lands throughout the United States. In this study, electromagnetic (EM) conductivity and direct current (dc) resistivity surveys were conducted in tandem with a NaCl tracer study to delineate ground-water flow paths through a mine-waste dump and adjacent wetland area. The tracer was used to tag adit water infiltrating from braided channels flowing over the top of the dump to seeps at the base of the dump. Infiltration from the braided channels had a maximum flow rate of 92 m/day and a hydraulic conductivity of 1.6 × 104 cm3/s. After rerouting of adit flow around the waste dump, discharge at some of the largest seeps was reduced, although not all seepage was eliminated entirely.

Integrating results of the tracer study with those of the EM and dc geophysical surveys revealed two main flow paths of ground water, one beneath the dump and one through the dump. The main source of water to the first flow path is deeper ground water emerging from the fault zone beneath the collapsed adit. This flow path travels beneath the waste dump and appears to have been unaffected by rerouting of the adit discharge around the waste dump. The source of the second flow path is infiltration of adit water from braided channels flowing over the top of the dump, which is intermediate in depth and flows through the center of the waste dump. Following rerouting of adit flow, discharge to seeps at the toe of the dump along this flow path was reduced by as much as two-thirds, although not eliminated entirely. Improved understanding of ground-water flow paths through this abandoned mine site is important in developing effective remediation strategies to target sources of metals emanating from the adit, waste dump, and contaminated wetland area.

Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

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