Watersheds in mineralized zones may contain many mines, each of which can contribute to acidity and the metal load of a stream. In this study the authors delineate hydrogeologic characteristics determining the transport of metals from the watershed to the stream in the watershed of Cement Creek, Colorado. Combining the injection of a chemical tracer, to determine a discharge, with synoptic sampling, to obtain chemistry of major ions and metals, spatially detailed load profiles are quantified. Using the discharge and load profiles, the authors (1) identified sampled inflow sources which emanate from undisturbed as well as previously mined areas; (2) demonstrate, based on simple hydrologic balance, that unsampled, likely dispersed subsurface, inflows are significant; and (3) estimate attenuation. For example, along the 12-km study reach, 108 kg per day of Zn were added to Cement Creek. Almost half of this load came from 10 well-defined areas that included both mined and non-mined parts of the watershed. However, the combined effect of many smaller inflows also contributed a substantial load that could limit the effectiveness of remediation. Of the total Zn load, 58.3 kg/day came from stream segments with no visible inflow, indicating the importance of contributions from dispersed subsurface inflow. The subsurface inflow mostly occurred in areas with substantial fracturing of the bedrock or in areas downstream from tributaries with large alluvial fans. Despite a pH generally less than 4.5, there was 58.4 kg/day of Zn attenuation that occurred in mixing zones downstream from inflows with high pH. Mixing zones can have local areas of pH that are high enough for sorption and precipitation reactions to have an effect. Principal component analysis classified inflows into 7 groups with distinct chemical signatures that represent water-rock interaction with different mineral-alteration suites in the watershed. The present approach provides a detailed snapshot of metal load for the watershed to support remediation decisions, and quantifies processes affecting metal transport. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.
Additional Publication Details
Assessment of metal loads in watersheds affected by acid mine drainage by using tracer injection and synoptic sampling: Cement Creek, Colorado, USA