Picher mining district is an abandoned lead and zinc mining area located in Ottawa County, northeastern Oklahoma. During the first half of the 20th century, the area was a primary producer of lead and zinc in the United States. Large accumulations of mine tailings, locally referred to as chat, produce leachate containing cadmium, iron, lead, and zinc that enter drainages within the mining area. Metals also seep to local ground water and streams from unplugged shafts, vent holes, seeps, and abandoned mine dewatering wells. Streamflow measurements were made and water-quality samples were collected and analyzed from two locations in Picher mining district from August 16 to August 29 following a rain event beginning on August 14, 2005, to determine likely concentrations and loads of metals from tailings and mine outflows in the part of Picher mining district near Tar Creek.
Locations selected for sampling included a tailings pile with an adjacent mill pond, referred to as the Western location, and a segment of Tar Creek from above the confluence with Lytle Creek to below Douthat bridge, referred to as Tar Creek Study Segment. Measured streamflow was less than 0.01 cubic foot per second at the Western location, with streamflow only being measurable at that site on August 16, 2005. Measured streamflows ranged from <0.01 to 2.62 cubic feet per second at Tar Creek Study Segment.
One water-quality sample was collected from runoff at the Western location. Total metals concentrations in that sample were 95.3 micrograms per liter cadmium, 182 micrograms per liter iron, 170 micrograms per liter lead, 1,760 micrograms per liter zinc. Total mean metals concentrations in 29 water-quality samples collected from Tar Creek Study Segment from August 16-29, 2005, were 21.8 micrograms per liter cadmium, 7,924 micrograms per liter iron, 7.68 micrograms per liter lead, and 14,548 micrograms per liter zinc.
No metals loading values were calculated for the Western location. Metals loading to Tar Creek Study Segment were calculated based on instantaneous streamflow and metals concentrations. Total metals loading to Tar Creek from chat leachate ranged from 0.062 to 0.212 pound per day of cadmium, <0.001 to 0.814 pound per day of iron, 0.003 to 0.036 pound per day of lead, and 10.6 to 47.9 pounds per day of zinc.
Metals loading to Tar Creek Study Segment from chat leachate and mine outflow was determined by subtracting values at appropriate upstream and downstream stations. Four sources of calculated metal loads are from Tar Creek and Lytle Creek entering the study segment, from chat pile leachate, and from old Lytle Creek mine outflow. Less than 1 percent of total and dissolved iron loading came from chat leachate, while about 99 percent of total iron loading came from mine outflow. Total and dissolved lead loading percentages from chat leachate were greater than total and dissolved lead loading percentages from mine outflow. About 19 percent of total zinc loading came from chat leachate, about 29 percent of total zinc loading came from mine outflow, and about 52 percent of total zinc loading came from Lytle Creek.