Determination of chemical-constituent loads during base-flow and storm-runoff conditions near historical mines in Prospect Gulch, upper Animas River watershed, southwestern Colorado

Open-File Report 99-159

, , , , ,



Prospect Gulch is a major source of iron, aluminum, zinc, and other metals to Cement Creek. Information is needed to prioritize remediation and develop strategies for cleanup of historical abandoned mine sites in Prospect Gulch. Chemical-constituent loads were determined in Prospect Gulch, a high-elevation alpine stream in southwestern Colorado that is affected by natural acid drainage from weathering of hydro-thermally altered igneous rock and acidic metal-laden discharge from historical abandoned mines. The objective of the study was to identify metal sources to Prospect Gulch. A tracer solution was injected into Prospect Gulch during water-quality sampling so that loading of geochemical constituents could be calculated throughout the study reach. A thunderstorm occurred during the tracer study, hence, metal loads were measured for storm-runoff as well as for base flow. Data from different parts of the study reach represents different flow conditions. The beginning of the reach represents background conditions during base flow immediately upstream from the Lark and Henrietta mines (samples PG5 to PG45). Other samples were collected during storm runoff conditions (PG100 to PG291); during the first flush of metal runoff following the onset of rainfall (PG303 to PG504), and samples PG542 to PG700 were collected during low-flow conditions. During base-flow conditions, the percentage increase in loads for major constituents and trace metals was more than an order of magnitude greater than the corresponding 36 % increase in stream discharge. Within the study reach, the highest percentage increases for dissolved loads were 740 % for iron (Fe), 465 % for aluminum (Al), 500 % for lead (Pb), 380 % for copper (Cu), 100 % for sulfate (SO4), and 50 % for zinc (Zn). Downstream loads near the mouth of Prospect Gulch often greatly exceeded the loads generated within the study reach but varied by metal species. For example, the study reach accounts for about 6 % of the dissolved-Fe load, 13 % of the dissolved-Al load, and 18 % of the dissolved-Zn load; but probably contributes virtually all of the dissolved Cu and Pb. The greatest downstream gains in dissolved trace-metal loads occurred near waste-rock dumps for the historical mines. The major sources of trace metals to the study reach were related to mining. The major source of trace metals in the reach near the mouth is unknown, however is probably related to weathering of highly altered igneous rocks, although an unknown component of trace metals could be derived from mining sources The late-summer storm dramatically increased the loads of most dissolved and total constituents. The effects of the storm were divided into two distinct periods; (1) a first flush of higher metal concentrations that occurred soon after rainfall began and (2) the peak discharge of the storm runoff. The first flush contained the highest loads of dissolved Fe, total and dissolved Zn, Cu, and Cd. The larger concentrations of Fe and sulfate in the first flush were likely derived from iron hydroxide minerals such as jarosite and schwertmanite, which are common on mine dumps in the Prospect Gulch drainage basin. Peak storm runoff contained the highest measured loads of total Fe, and of total and dissolved calcium, magnesium, silica and Al, which were probably derived from weathering of igneous rocks and clay minerals in the drainage basin.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Determination of chemical-constituent loads during base-flow and storm-runoff conditions near historical mines in Prospect Gulch, upper Animas River watershed, southwestern Colorado
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey,
39 p.