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The chemistry of iron, aluminum, and dissolved organic material in three acidic, metal-enriched, mountain streams, as controlled by watershed and in-stream processes

December 1, 1990

Several studies were conducted in three acidic, metal-enriched, mountain streams, and the results are discussed together in this paper to provide a synthesis of watershed and in-stream processes controlling Fe, Al, and DOC (dissolved organic carbon) concentrations. One of the streams, the Snake River, is naturally acidic; the other two, Peru Creek and St. Kevin Gulch, receive acid mine drainage. Analysis of stream water chemistry data for the acidic headwaters of the Snake River shows that some trace metal solutes (Al, Mn, Zn) are correlated with major ions, indicating that watershed processes control their concentrations. Once in the stream, biogeochemical processes can control transport if they occur over time scales comparable to those for hydrologic transport. Examples of the following in-stream reactions are presented: (1) photoreduction and dissolution of hydrous iron oxides in response to an experimental decrease in stream pH, (2) precipitation of Al at three stream confluences, and (3) sorption of dissolved organic material by hydrous iron and aluminum oxides in a stream confluence. The extent of these reactions is evaluated using conservative tracers and a transport model that includes storage in the substream zone.