Hydrogeology and effects of tailings basins on the hydrology of Sands Plain, Marquette County, Michigan

Water-Resources Investigations Report 84-4114

Prepared in cooperation with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources



Sands Plain, a 225-square mile area, is near the Marquette iron-mining district in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Gribben Basin, a settling basin for disposal of waste rock particles from iron-ore concentration, is in the western part. Because Sands Plain is near iron-ore deposits, but not underlain by them, parts of the area are being considered as sites for additional tailings basins.

Glacial deposits, as much as 500 feet thick, comprise the principal aquifer. Most ground water flows through the glacial deposits and discharges in a series of nearly parallel tributaries to the Chocolay River which flows into Lake Superior. Ninety-five percent of the discharge of these streams is ground-water runoff. The aquifer is recharged by precipitation at an average rate of 15 inches per year and by streamflow losses from the upper reaches of Goose Lake Outlet at an average rate of 2 inches per year.

Precipitation collected at two sites had mean pH values of 4.0; rates of deposition of sulfate and total dissolved nitrogen were estimated to be 17.4 and 5.8 pounds per acre per year, respectively. Dissolved-solids concentrations in water from streams ranged from 82 to 143 milligrams per liter; sulfate ranged from 4.2 to 10 milligrams per liter. Calcium and bicarbonate were the principal dissolved substances. Highest dissolved-solids concentrations in water from wells in glacial deposits were found in a major buried valley east of Goose Lake Outlet. These concentrations ranged from 14 to 246 milligrams per liter; sulfate concentrations ranged from 0.9 to 53 milligrams per liter. Because of the high ground-water component of streamflow, mean concentrations of total nitrogen and trace metals in surface water do not differ significantly from mean concentrations in ground water.

A two-dimensional digital model of ground-water flow was used to simulate water levels and ground-water runoff under steady-state and transient conditions Predictive simulations with the steady-state model were made to determine the effects of continued operation of Gribben tailings basin and construction and operation of four hypothetical tailings basins. Operation of Gribben Basin has decreased the average rate of ground-water flow to Goose Lake Outlet by 0.9 to 1.6 cubic feet per second but has increased the average rate of groundwater flow to Warner Creek by about 0.2 cubic foot per second. Continued filling of the tailings basin to its design capacity is expected to cause a slight increase in leakage from the basin to Goose Lake Outlet.

Four hypothetical tailings basins, comprising a total of 11 square miles, were simulated by successively adding one more basin to the previous basin configuration. Net ground-water flow to streams was reduced by the simulated basins. The magnitude of these reductions depends on engineering decisions about the method of basin construction and a better understanding of the hydraulic properties of the materials used to seal the basin perimeters. The maximum total reduction in ground-water runoff due to construction and operation of 11 square miles of tailings basins is about 18 cubic feet per second compared to flow simulated by a steady-state simulation without tailings basins. If bottom sealing, rather than slurry wall construction, is used for one of the hypothetical basins, the total maximum reduction is 7.5 cubic feet per second. Under some assumed conditions, leakage from the tailings basins may slightly increase ground-water flow to Goose Lake Outlet and Warner Creek. The maximum probable leakage from all tailings basins is about 7 cubic feet per second; the minimum probable leakage is about 0.7 cubic foot per second.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrogeology and effects of tailings basins on the hydrology of Sands Plain, Marquette County, Michigan
Series title:
Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Lansing, MI
Contributing office(s):
Michigan Water Science Center
Document: vi, 98 p.; Plate: 22.07 x 17.25 inches
United States
Marquette County
Other Geospatial:
Sands Plain