Elevated concentrations (0.6-0.9 mg/l) of selenium were detected in the groundwater of a small backfill area at a surface mine in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming. This report focuses on the source of selenium, its modes of occurrence in overburden deposits and backfill groundwater, and its fate. The immediate source of the selenium appeared to be the dissolution of preexisting soluble salts from the unsaturated zone of the overburden. The ultimate source of selenium was probably the oxidation of selenium-bearing pyrite in the geologic past. Overburden was placed partially in the saturated zone of the backfill where, upon resaturation, soluble salts dissolved in the groundwater. Water standing in the pit at the time of backfilling might have contributed to the elevated concentrations of selenium and other solutes. Selenium was found in an ash-rich coal and in clastic sediments in seven different modes of occurrence. The concentration of soluble selenium in the groundwater at this site has been decreasing since monitoring began in late 1982, and at the present rate of decrease, the concentration should drop below the State of Wyoming guideline of 0.05 mg/l for selenium in water intended for use by livestock by about mid-1992. The decrease in soluble selenium concentration may in part be due to microbially assisted reduction of selenate followed by sorption on clays and other sorbents. ?? 1992 Springer-Verlag New York Inc.