The legacy of acid mine drainage and toxic trace metals left in streams by historical mining is being addressed by many important yet costly remediation efforts. Monitoring of environmental conditions frequently is not performed but is essential to evaluate remediation effectiveness, determine whether clean-up goals have been met, and assess which remediation strategies are most effective. Extensive pre- and post-remediation data for water and sediment quality for the Boulder River watershed in southwestern Montana provide an unusual opportunity to demonstrate the importance of monitoring. The most extensive restoration in the watershed occurred at the Comet mine on High Ore Creek and resulted in the most dramatic improvement in aquatic habitat. Removal of contaminated sediment and tailings, and stream-channel reconstruction reduced Cd and Zn concentrations in water such that fish are now present, and reduced metal concentrations in streambed sediment by a factor of c. 10, the largest improvement in the district. Waste removals at the Buckeye/Enterprise and Bullion mine sites produced limited or no improvement in water and sediment quality, and acidic drainage from mine adits continues to degrade stream aquatic habitat. Recontouring of hillslopes that had funnelled runoff into the workings of the Crystal mine substantially reduced metal concentrations in Uncle Sam Gulch, but did not eliminate all of the acidic adit drainage. Lead isotopic evidence suggests that the Crystal mine rather than the Comet mine is now the largest source of metals in streambed sediment of the Boulder River. The completed removal actions prevent additional contaminants from entering the stream, but it may take many years for erosional processes to diminish the effects of contaminated sediment already in streams. Although significant strides have been made, additional efforts to seal draining adits or treat the adit effluent at the Bullion and Crystal mines would need to be completed to achieve the desired restoration.
Analytical data for all post-remediation samples is available at: http://www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18344.