Water and sediment study of the Snake River watershed, Colorado, Oct. 9-12, 2001

Open-File Report 2002-330

, , , and



The Snake River watershed, located upstream from Dillon Reservoir in the central mountains of Colorado, has been affected by historical base-metal mining. Trout stocked in the Snake River for recreational purposes do not survive through the winter. Sediment cores analyzed by previous investigators from the reservoir revealed elevated concentrations of base metals and mercury. We collected 36 surface water samples (filtered and unfiltered) and 38 streambed-sediment samples from streams in the Snake River watershed. Analyses of the sediment and water samples show that concentrations of several metals exceed aquatic life standards in one or both media. Ribbon maps showing dissolved concentrations of zinc, cadmium, copper, and manganese in water (0.45-micron filtered and corrected for the ameliorating effect of hardness), and copper, cadmium, and zinc in sediment indicate reaches where toxic effects on trout would be expected and stream reaches where toxicity standards for rainbow, brown, and brook trout are exceeded. Instantaneous loads for sulfate, strontium, iron, cadmium, copper, and zinc were calculated from 0.45-micron-filtered water concentrations and discharge measurements were made at each site. Sulfate and strontium behave conservatively, whereas copper, cadmium, and zinc are reactive. The dissolved copper load entering the reservoir is less than 20 percent of the value calculated from some upper reaches; copper is transferred to suspended and or streambed sediment by sorption to iron oxyhydroxides. Higher percentages of zinc and cadmium reach the reservoir in dissolved form; however, load calculations indicate that some of these metals are also precipitated out of solution. The most effective remediation activities should be concentrated on reducing the dissolved loads of zinc, cadmium, and copper in two reaches of lower Peru Creek between the confluence with the Snake River and Cinnamon Gulch. We analyzed all streambed sediment for mercury and selected streambed-sediment and reservoir core samples for lead isotope signatures. Results indicate that the mercury anomaly in the reservoir sediment was not from any known source in the Snake River, Blue River, or Tenmile Creek watersheds. Its source remains an enigma.

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Water and sediment study of the Snake River watershed, Colorado, Oct. 9-12, 2001
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
United States