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Mining-impacted sources of metal loading to an alpine stream based on a tracer-injection study, Clear Creek County, Colorado

David L. Fey and Laurie Wirt
Mining-impacted sources of metal loading to an alpine stream based on a tracer-injection study, Clear Creek County, Colorado (in Understanding and responding to hazardous substances at mine sites in the Western United States, Jerome V. DeGraff (editor))
Reviews in Engineering Geology (2007) 17: 85-103

Abstract

Base flow water in Leavenworth Creek, a tributary to South Clear Creek in Clear Creek County, Colorado, contains copper and zinc at levels toxic to aquatic life. The metals are predominantly derived from the historical Waldorf mine, and sources include an adit, a mine-waste dump, and mill-tailings deposits. Tracer-injection and water-chemistry synoptic studies were conducted during low-flow conditions to quantify metal loads of mining-impacted inflows and their relative contributions to nearby Leavenworth Creek. During the 2-year investigation, the adit was rerouted in an attempt to reduce metal loading to the stream. During the first year, a lithium-bromide tracer was injected continuously into the stream to achieve steady-state conditions prior to synoptic sampling. Synoptic samples were collected from Leavenworth Creek and from discrete surface inflows. One year later, synoptic sampling was repeated at selected sites to evaluate whether rerouting of the adit flow had improved water quality. The largest sources of copper and zinc to the creek were from surface inflows from the adit, diffuse inflows from wetland areas, and leaching of dispersed mill tailings. Major instream processes included mixing between mining- and non-mining-impacted waters and the attenuation of iron, aluminum, manganese, and other metals by precipitation or sorption. One year after the rerouting, the Zn and Cu loads in Leavenworth Creek from the adit discharge versus those from leaching of a large volume of dispersed mill tailings were approximately equal to, if not greater than, those before. The mine-waste dump does not appear to be a major source of metal loading. Any improvement that may have resulted from the elimination of adit flow across the dump was masked by higher adit discharge attributed to a larger snow pack. Although many mine remediation activities commonly proceed without prior scientific studies to identify the sources and pathways of metal transport, such strategies do not always translate to water-quality improvements in the stream. Assessment of sources and pathways to gain better understanding of the system is a necessary investment in the outcome of any successful remediation strategy.


ISSN: 0080-2018
EISSN: 2169-799X
Coden: GAEGA4
Serial Title: Reviews in Engineering Geology
Serial Volume: 17
Title: Mining-impacted sources of metal loading to an alpine stream based on a tracer-injection study, Clear Creek County, Colorado
Title: Understanding and responding to hazardous substances at mine sites in the Western United States
Author(s): Fey, David L.Wirt, Laurie
Author(s): DeGraff, Jerome V.editor
Affiliation: U. S. Geological Survey, Lakewood, CO, United States
Affiliation: U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Sierra National Forest, Clovis, CA, United States
Pages: 85-103
Published: 2007
Text Language: English
Publisher: Geological Society of America (GSA), Boulder, CO, United States
ISBN: 9780813741178
Meeting name: 2002 annual meeting of the Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists, Symposium I on Addressing hazardous waste and contamination issues at abandoned mines in the Western United States
Meeting location: Reno, NV, USA, United States
Meeting date: 20020923Sept. 23-29, 2002
References: 21
Accession Number: 2008-073593
Categories: Environmental geologyGeneral geochemistry
Document Type: Serial Conference document
Bibliographic Level: Analytic
Illustration Description: illus. incl. 4 tables, sketch map
N39°34'60" - N39°49'60", W105°55'00" - W105°25'00"
Country of Publication: United States
Secondary Affiliation: GeoRef, Copyright 2017, American Geosciences Institute.
Update Code: 200820
Program Name: USGSOPNon-USGS publications with USGS authors
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