The hydrology and quality of surface water in and around the Pike Hill Brook watershed, in Corinth, Vermont, was studied from October 2004 to December 2005 by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Pike Hill was mined intermittently for copper from 1847 to 1919 and the site is known to be contributing trace elements and acidity to Pike Hill Brook and an unnamed tributary to Cookville Brook. The site has been listed as a Superfund site since 2004. Streamflow, specific conductance, pH, and water temperature were measured continuously and monthly at three sites on Pike Hill Brook to determine the variation in these parameters over an annual cycle. Synoptic water-quality sampling was done at 10 stream sites in October 2004, April 2005, and June 2005 and at 13 stream sites in August 2005 to characterize the quality of surface water in the watershed on a seasonal and spatial basis, as well as to assess the effects of wetlands on water quality. Samples for analysis of benthic macroinvertebrate populations were collected at 11 stream sites in August 2005.
Water samples were analyzed for 5 major ions and 32 trace elements. Concentrations of trace elements at sites in the Pike Hill Brook watershed exceeded USEPA National Recommended Water Quality Criteria acute and chronic toxicity standards for aluminum, iron, cadmium, copper, and zinc. Concentrations of copper exceeded the chronic criteria in an unnamed tributary to Cookville Brook in one sample. Concentrations of sulfate, calcium, aluminum, iron, cadmium, copper, and zinc decreased with distance from a site directly downstream from the mine (site 1), as a result of dilution and through sorption and precipitation of the trace elements. Maximum concentrations of aluminum, iron, cadmium, copper, and zinc were observed during spring snowmelt. Concentrations of sulfate, calcium, cadmium, copper, and zinc, and instantaneous loads of calcium and aluminum were statistically different (p<0.05) among the three continuously monitored sites (sites 1, 4, and 5). Instantaneous loads of aluminum, iron, and copper decreased by one to three orders of magnitude from site 1 to a site 1.1 mi downstream (site 4). Instantaneous loads of sulfate were similar between sites 1, 4, and at a site 3 mi downstream (site 5). Instantaneous loads of cadmium and zinc were similar between sites 1 and 4, and loads of iron and copper were similar between sites 4 and 5.
Loads of chemical constituents were compared at site 1 (closest to the mine waste piles) and site 5 (near the mouth of Pike Hill Brook and below a majority of the wetlands). Annually, the loads of dissolved cadmium and zinc at site 1 were about five times greater than loads at site 5, and the load of dissolved copper at site 1 was about 17 times greater than at site 5. The ratio of loads for dissolved cadmium, copper, and zinc to total cadmium, copper, and zinc at site 1 was about 1.
Samples collected in Pike Hill Brook upstream and downstream from the wetlands during low flows in August 2005 showed that oxidation of ferrous iron and precipitation of iron-hydroxides were probably not affecting trace metals in the wetlands through sorption; however, a significant portion of the iron entering the wetlands was in particulate form and may have transported sorbed copper and other trace metals. Thus, aerobic activity in the wetlands was probably not affecting metal cycling in the watershed. Concentrations and loads of sulfate may be unlikely to define unequivocally the role of the wetlands with regard to anaerobic bacterial sulfate reduction; however, bacterial sulfate removal may have affected loads of sulfate. Loads of copper increased downstream from the wetlands and may reflect the reductive dissolution of ferric hydroxide particulates in anaerobic parts of the wetlands.Concentrations of dissolved iron increased downstream from the wetlands.
The most apparent effects on the macroinvertebr