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Assessment of water resources in lead-zinc mined areas in Cherokee County, Kansas, and adjacent areas

Open-File Report 84-439

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Abstract

A study was conducted to evaluate water-resources problems related to abandoned lead and zinc mines in Cherokee County, Kansas, and adjacent areas in Missouri and Oklahoma. Past mining activities have caused changes in the hydrogeology of the area. Lead and zinc mining has caused discontinuities and perforations in the confining shale west of the Pennsylvanian-Mississippian geologic contact (referred to as the western area), which have created artificial ground-water recharge and discharge areas. Recharge to the shallow aquifer (rocks of Mississippian age) through collapses, shafts, and drill holes in the shale has caused the formation of a groundwater "mound" in the vicinity of the Picher Field in Kansas and Oklahoma. Discharge of mine-contaminated ground water to Tar Creek occurs in'Oklahoma from drill holes and shafts where the potentiometric surface of the shallow aquifer is above the land surface. Mining of ore in the shallow aquifer has resulted in extensive fracturing and removal of material, which has created highly transmissive zones and voids and increased ground-water storage properties of the aquifer. In the area east of the Pennsylvanian-Mississippian geologic contact (referred to as the eastern area), fractured rock and tailings on the land surface increased the amount of water available for infiltration to the shallow aquifer; in the western area, tailings on the impermeable shale created artificial, perched aquifer systems that slowly drain to surface streams.

Pumping of the deep aquifer (rocks of Cambrian and Ordovician age) by towns and industries, which developed as a result of the mining industry, has resulted in a potential for downward movement of water from the shallow aquifer. The potential is greatest in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. Because of the large volume of water that may be transported from the shallow to the deep aquifer, open drill holes or casings present the greatest contamination hazard to water supplies in the deep aquifer.

Mining allowed oxidation of ore deposits which, on saturation with water, resulted in poor-quality water that generally contains large concentrations of sulfate and trace metals. Water from mines in the eastern area contained dissolved-solids concentrations of less than 500 mg/L (milligrams per liter), a median pH of 3.9, sulfate concentrations that ranged between 98 and 290 mg/L, and median concentrations for zinc of 37,600 pg/L (micrograms per liter), for lead of 240 pg/L, for cadmium of 180 ug/L, for iron of 70 pg/L, for manganese of 240 pg/L, and for silica of 15 mg/L. Water from mines in the western area contained dissolved-solids concentrations of generally more than 500 mg/L, a median pH of 6.8, sulfate concentrations that ranged between 170 and 2,150 mg/L, and median concentrations for zinc of 3,200 pg/L, for lead of 0 pg/L (minimum detection limit is 10 pg/L), for cadmium of 6 pg/L, for iron of 840 pg/L, for manganese of 440 ug/L, and for silica of 11 mg/L.

No conclusive evidence of lateral migration of water from the mines into domestic well-water supplies in the shallow aquifer was found in the study area in Kansas. Analyses of water from public-supply wells tapping the deep aquifer did not indicate contamination with trace metals, although chemical analyses from four of six wells exhibited increasing trends through time in sulfate concentrations. These increases probably reflect localized leakage of water from the shallow aquifer along corroded or leaky well casings.

Effects of abandoned lead and zinc mines on tributaries of the Spring River in the eastern area are most severe in Short Creek. Compared with water samples from three other major streams in the eastern area, a sample collected from Short Creek, 2 miles west of Galena, Kansas, during August 1981, contained the largest concentrations of dissolved sulfate (240 mg/L), zinc (25,000 pg/L), cadmium (170 pg/L), manganese (1,700 ug/L), and the lowest pH (6.0). Concentrations of these constituents are due primarily to inflow of ground water from the breccia, mines, and to seepage from chat piles in the Short Creek basin. The largest concentrations of zinc and manganese in the Spring River during August 1981, were observed in analyses of samples collected below Short Creek. In the western area, drainage from tailings, which act as perched aquifers on the impervious Pennsylvanian shales, appeared to have little effect on water quality in Willow Creek during low-flow conditions but caused larger concentrations of dissolved zinc just after a wet period during June 1981. Drainage from tailings cause large concentrations of sulfate, zinc, and cadmium in Tar Creek in Kansas. Compared with four other major streams in the western area in Kansas, Tar Creek contained the largest low-flow concentrations of sulfate (910 mg/L), zinc (5,800 pg/L), and cadmium (40ug/L).

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Assessment of water resources in lead-zinc mined areas in Cherokee County, Kansas, and adjacent areas
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
84-439
Year Published:
1984
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
Kansas Water Science Center
Description:
viii, 102 p.
Country:
United States
State:
Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma
County:
Cherokee County