The synoptic mass balance approach is often used to evaluate constituent mass loading in streams affected by mine drainage. Spatial profiles of constituent mass load are used to identify sources of contamination and prioritize sites for remedial action. This paper presents a field scale study in which replicate synoptic sampling campaigns are used to quantify the aggregate uncertainty in constituent load that arises from (1) laboratory analyses of constituent and tracer concentrations, (2) field sampling error, and (3) temporal variation in concentration from diel constituent cycles and/or source variation. Consideration of these factors represents an advance in the application of the synoptic mass balance approach by placing error bars on estimates of constituent load and by allowing all sources of uncertainty to be quantified in aggregate; previous applications of the approach have provided only point estimates of constituent load and considered only a subset of the possible errors. Given estimates of aggregate uncertainty, site specific data and expert judgement may be used to qualitatively assess the contributions of individual factors to uncertainty. This assessment can be used to guide the collection of additional data to reduce uncertainty. Further, error bars provided by the replicate approach can aid the investigator in the interpretation of spatial loading profiles and the subsequent identification of constituent source areas within the watershed.
The replicate sampling approach is applied to Peru Creek, a stream receiving acidic, metal-rich effluent from the Pennsylvania Mine. Other sources of acidity and metals within the study reach include a wetland area adjacent to the mine and tributary inflow from Cinnamon Gulch. Analysis of data collected under low-flow conditions indicates that concentrations of Al, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Pb, and Zn in Peru Creek exceed aquatic life standards. Constituent loading within the study reach is dominated by effluent from the Pennsylvania Mine, with over 50% of the Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, and Zn loads attributable to a collapsed adit near the top of the study reach. These estimates of mass load may underestimate the effect of the Pennsylvania Mine as leakage from underground mine workings may contribute to metal loads that are currently attributed to the wetland area. This potential leakage confounds the evaluation of remedial options and additional research is needed to determine the magnitude and location of the leakage.
Additional publication details
Estimating instream constituent loads using replicate synoptic sampling, Peru Creek, Colorado