Aquatic ecosystems in Central Colorado are influenced by mineral forming processes and historical mining

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Stream water and sediment toxicity to aquatic insects were quantified from central Colorado catchments to distinguish the effect of geologic processes which result in high background metals concentrations from historical mining. Our sampling design targeted small catchments underlain by rocks of a single lithology, which allowed the development of biological and geochemical baselines without the complication of multiple rock types exposed in the catchment. By accounting for geologic sources of metals to the environment, we were able to distinguish between the environmental effects caused by mining and the weathering of different mineralized areas. Elevated metal concentrations in water and sediment were not restricted to mined catchments. Impairment of aquatic communities also occurred in unmined catchments influenced by hydrothermal alteration. Hydrothermal alteration style, deposit type, and mining were important determinants of water and sediment quality and aquatic community structure. Weathering of unmined porphyry Cu-Mo occurrences resulted in water (median toxic unit (TU) = 108) and sediment quality (TU = 1.9) that exceeded concentrations thought to be safe for aquatic ecosystems (TU = 1). Metalsensitive aquatic insects were virtually absent from streams draining catchments with porphyry Cu-Mo occurrences (1.1 individuals/0.1 m2 ). However, water and sediment quality (TU = 0.1, 0.5 water and sediment, respectively) and presence of metalsensitive aquatic insects (204 individuals/0.1 m2 ) for unmined polymetallic vein occurrences were indistinguishable from that for unmined and unaltered streams (TU = 0.1, 0.5 water and sediment, respectively; 201 individuals/0.1 m2 ). In catchments with mined quartz-sericite-pyrite altered polymetallic vein deposits, water (TU = 8.4) and sediment quality (TU = 3.1) were degraded and more toxic to aquatic insects (36 individuals/0.1 m2 ) than water (TU = 0.4) and sediment quality (TU = 1.7) from mined propylitically altered polymetallic vein deposits. The sampling approach taken in this study distinguishes the effects of different mineral deposits on ecosystems and can be used to more accurately quantify the effect of mining on the environment. 

Additional publication details

Publication type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Title Aquatic ecosystems in Central Colorado are influenced by mineral forming processes and historical mining
Year Published 2009
Language English
Publisher U.S Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Fort Collins Science Center
Description 11 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title Planning for an uncertain future - Monitoring, integration, and adaptation (SIR 2009-5049)
First page 195
Last page 205
Conference Title Third interagency conference on research in the watersheds
Conference Location Estes Park, CO
Conference Date September 8-11, 2008
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N