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Quality of Water and Sediment in Streams Affected by Historical Mining, and Quality of Mine Tailings, in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin, Big Bend Area of the United States and Mexico, August 2002

Scientific Investigations Report 2008-5032

Prepared in cooperation with the International Boundary and Water Commission; National Park Service; Texas Commission on Environmental Quality; Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, Mexico; Area de Proteccion de Flora y Fauna Canon de Santa Elena, Mexico; and Area de Proteccion de Flora y Fauna Maderas del Carmen, Mexico
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Abstract

The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the International Boundary and Water Commission - U.S. and Mexican Sections, the National Park Service, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales in Mexico, the Area de Proteccion de Flora y Fauna Canon de Santa Elena in Mexico, and the Area de Proteccion de Flora y Fauna Maderas del Carmen in Mexico, collected samples of stream water, streambed sediment, and mine tailings during August 2002 for a study to determine whether trace elements from abandoned mines in the area in and around Big Bend National Park have affected the water and sediment quality in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin of the United States and Mexico. Samples were collected from eight sites on the main stem of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, four Rio Grande/Rio Bravo tributary sites downstream from abandoned mines or mine-tailing sites, and 11 mine-tailing sites. Mines in the area were operated to produce fluorite, germanium, iron, lead, mercury, silver, and zinc during the late 1800s through at least the late 1970s. Moderate (relatively neutral) pHs in stream-water samples collected at the 12 Rio Grande/Rio Bravo main-stem and tributary sites indicate that water is well mixed, diluted, and buffered with respect to the solubility of trace elements. The highest sulfate concentrations were in water samples from tributaries draining the Terlingua mining district. Only the sample from the Rough Run Draw site exceeded the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards general-use protection criterion for sulfate. All chloride and dissolved solids concentrations in water samples were less than the general-use protection criteria. Aluminum, copper, mercury, nickel, selenium, and zinc were detected in all water samples for which each element was analyzed. Cadmium, chromium, and lead were detected in samples less frequently, and silver was not detected in any of the samples. None of the sample concentrations of aluminum, cadmium, chromium, nickel, selenium, and zinc exceeded the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards criteria for aquatic life-use protection or human health. The only trace elements detected in the water samples at concentrations exceeding the Texas Surface Water Quality Standards criterion for human health (fish consumption use) was lead at one site and mercury at 10 of 12 sites. Relatively high mercury concentrations distributed throughout the area might indicate sources of mercury in addition to abandoned mining areas. Streambed-sediment samples were collected from 12 sites and analyzed for 44 major and trace elements. In general, the trace elements detected in streambed-sediment samples were low in concentration, interpreted as consistent with background concentrations. Concentrations at two sites, however, were elevated compared to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality criteria. Concentrations of antimony, arsenic, cadmium, lead, silver, and zinc in the sample from San Carlos Creek downstream from La Esperanza (San Carlos) Mine exceeded the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality screening levels for sediment. The sample from Rough Run Draw, downstream from the Study Butte Mine, also showed elevated concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, and lead, but these concentrations were much lower than those in the San Carlos Creek sample and did not exceed screening levels. Elevated concentrations of multiple trace elements in streambed-sediment samples from San Carlos Creek and Rough Run Draw indicate that San Carlos Creek, and probably Rough Run Draw, have been adversely affected by mining activities. Fourteen mine-tailing samples from 11 mines were analyzed for 25 major and trace elements. All trace elements except selenium and thallium were detected in one or more samples. The highest lead concentrations were detected in tailings samples from the Boquillas, Puerto Rico, La Esperanza (San Carlos), and Tres Marias Mines, as might be expected because the tailings ar

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Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Quality of Water and Sediment in Streams Affected by Historical Mining, and Quality of Mine Tailings, in the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo Basin, Big Bend Area of the United States and Mexico, August 2002
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
2008-5032
Edition:
Version 1.0
Year Published:
2008
Language:
ENGLISH
Publisher:
Geological Survey (U.S.)
Contributing office(s):
Texas Water Science Center
Description:
vi, 46 p.
Time Range Start:
2002-08-01
Time Range End:
2002-08-31