As part of the Clean Water Act of 1972 (Public Law 92-500), all States are required to establish water-quality standards for every river basin in the State. During 1994, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment proposed to the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission (CWQCC) an aquatic-life standard of 225 µg/L (micrograms per liter) for the dissolved-zinc concentration in the Animas River downstream from Silverton (fig.1). The CWQCC delayed implementation of this water-quality standard until further information was collected and a plan for the cleanup of abandoned mines was developed. Dissolved-zinc concentrations in this section of the river ranged from about 270 µg/L during high flow, when rainfall and snowmelt runoff dilute the dissolved minerals in the river (U.S. Geological Survey, 1996, p. 431), to 960 µg/L (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, written commun., 1996) during low flow (such as late summer and middle winter when natural springs and drainage from mines are the main sources for the streams).
Mining sites in the basin were developed between about 1872 and the 1940‘s, with only a few mines operated until the early 1990‘s. For local governments, mining sites represent part of the Nation‘s heritage, tourists are attracted to the historic mining sites, and governments are obligated to protect the historic mining sites according to the National Historic Preservation Act (Public Law 89-665).
In the context of this fact sheet, the term "natural sources of dissolved minerals" refers to springs and streams where no effect from mining were determined. "Mining-related sources of dissolved minerals" are assumed to be: (1 ) Water draining from mines , and (2) water seeping from mine-waste dump pile where the waste piles were saturated by water draining from mines. Although rainfall and snowmelt runoff from mine-waste piles might affect water quality in streams, work described in this fact sheet was done during low-flow conditions when springs and drainage from mine were the main sources of dissolved minerals affecting the streams. Data are being collected by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to determine the magnitude and sources of dissolved minerals during rainfall- and snowmelt-runoff periods.
This fact sheet presents results of studies done by the USGS in collaboration with the Animas River Stakeholders Group and was prepared in cooperation with the Southwestern Colorado Water Conservation District. The studies were done at selected sites in the Upper Animas River Basin to determine natural and mining-related sources of dissolved minerals and are continuing in the basin with the Animas River Stakeholders Group and as part of the Department of the Interior Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative. The results of these studies will provide useful information for determining water-quality standards in the basin.