In many hard-rock-mining districts water flowing from abandoned mine adits is a primary source of metals to receiving streams. Understanding the generation of adit discharge is an important step in developing remediation plans. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency listed the Standard Mine in the Elk Creek drainage basin near Crested Butte, Colorado as a superfund site because drainage from the Standard Mine enters Elk Creek, contributing dissolved and suspended loads of zinc, cadmium, copper, and other metals to the stream. Elk Creek flows into Coal Creek, which is a source of drinking water for the town of Crested Butte. In 2006 and 2007, the U.S. Geological Survey undertook a hydrogeologic investigation of the Standard Mine and vicinity and identified areas of the underground workings for additional work. Mine drainage, underground-water samples, and selected spring water samples were collected in July 2009 for analysis of inorganic solutes as part of a follow-up study. Water analyses are reported for mine-effluent samples from Levels 1 and 5 of the Standard Mine, underground samples from Levels 2 and 3 of the Standard Mine, two spring samples, and an Elk Creek sample.
Reported analyses include field measurements (pH, specific conductance, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and redox potential), major constituents and trace elements, and oxygen and hydrogen isotopic determinations. Overall, water samples collected in 2009 at the same sites as were collected in 2006 have similar chemical compositions. Similar to 2006, water in Level 3 did not flow out the portal but was observed to flow into open workings to lower parts of the mine. Many dissolved constituent concentrations, including calcium, magnesium, sulfate, manganese, zinc, and cadmium, in Level 3 waters substantially are lower than in Level 1 effluent. Concentrations of these dissolved constituents in water samples collected from Level 2 approach or exceed concentrations of Level 1 effluent suggesting that water-rock interaction between Levels 3 and 1 can account for the elevated concentration of metals and other constituents in Level 1 portal effluent. Ore minerals (sphalerite, argentiferous galena, and chalcopyrite) are the likely sources of zinc, cadmium, lead, and copper and are present within the mine in unmined portions of the vein system, within plugged ore chutes, and in muck piles.