Miller Creek is a tributary of Soda Butte Creek in south-central Montana near the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. Surface-water and streambed-sediment samples were collected from streams and seeps throughout the Miller Creek watershed during low-flow conditions on August 28-31, 2000, to characterize metal concentrations and identify possible sources contributing metal to Miller Creek.
Most water in Miller Creek appears to be unaffected by mining disturbances or natural weathering of mineralized rocks, although such effects are common elsewhere in the New World Mining District. Values for pH were near neutral to basic. Total-recoverable copper, lead, and zinc concentrations were low, relative to State of Montana water-quality standards, with many concentrations less than the analytical minimum reporting levels. Metal concentrations in Miller Creek during this study ranged from 1 to 6 micrograms per liter (?g/L) for total-recoverable copper, <1 to 5 ?g/L for total-recoverable lead, and <1 to 26 ?g/L for total-recoverable zinc. Concentrations of cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc in all samples from Miller Creek were less than the chronic aquatic-life criteria, except for one total-recoverable lead value (5 ?g/L) just downstream from the Black Warrior Mine inflow.
Leachable lead and zinc concentrations in streambed-sediment samples collected during this study were highest at the Black Warrior Mine inflow. Leachable concentrations at this site were about 20 times greater for lead and 11 times greater for zinc than concentrations in the streambed-sediment sample collected from Miller Creek upstream from this inflow. However, these elevated concentrations had little effect on the leachable metal concentrations in the streambed-sediment sample collected downstream from the Black Warrior Mine inflow.
Metal loading to Miller Creek during this low-flow study was relatively small. Three small left-bank inflows having elevated copper concentrations entered Miller Creek near the middle of the study reach and their combined total-recoverable copper load accounted for about 96 percent of the copper load in Miller Creek. Small loads of lead (about 2 micrograms per second) entered Miller Creek from the Black Warrior Mine inflow and a right bank inflow. None of the loads entering Miller Creek had an appreciable effect on mainstem metal concentrations. In addition, substantial differences between mining related areas and areas influenced by local geology could not be determined.