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A 24 h investigation of the hydrogeochemistry of baseflow and stormwater in an urban area impacted by mining: Butte, Montana

September 1, 2005

Changes in water quality during a storm event were continuously monitored over a 24 h period at a single location along an urban stormwater drain in Butte, Montana. The Butte Metro Storm Drain (MSD) collects groundwater baseflow and stormwater draining Butte Hill, a densely populated site that has been severely impacted by 130 years of mining, milling, and smelting of copper-rich, polymetallic mineral deposits. On the afternoon of 26 June 2002, a heavy thunderstorm caused streamflow in the MSD to increase 100-fold, from 0·2 ft3 s−1 to more than 20 ft3 s−1. Hourly discharge and water quality data were collected before, during, and following the storm. The most significant finding was that the calculated loads (grams per hour) of both dissolved and particulate copper passing down the MSD increased more than 100-fold in the first hour following the storm, and remained elevated over baseline conditions for the remainder of the study period. Other metals, such as zinc, cadmium, and manganese, showed a decrease in load from pre-storm to post-storm conditions. In addition to the large flush of copper, loads of soluble phosphorus increased during the storm, whereas dissolved oxygen dropped to low levels (<2 mg l−1). These results show that infrequent storm events in Butte have the potential to generate large volumes of runoff that exceed Montana water quality standards for acute exposure of aquatic life to copper, as well as depressed levels of dissolved oxygen. This study has important implications to ongoing reclamation activities in the upper Clark Fork Superfund site, particularly with respect to management of storm flow, and may be applicable to other watersheds impacted by mining activities.