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Distribution and geochemistry of selected trace elements in the Sacramento River near Keswick Reservoir

January 1, 2012

The effect of heavy metals from the Iron Mountain Mines (IMM) Superfund site on the upper Sacramento River is examined using data from water and bed sediment samples collected during 1996–97. Relative to surrounding waters, aluminum, cadmium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, thallium, zinc and the rare-earth elements (REE) were all present in high concentrations in effluent from Spring Creek Reservoir (SCR), which enters into the Sacramento River in the Spring Creek Arm of Keswick Reservoir. SCR was constructed in part to regulate the flow of acidic, metal-rich waters draining the IMM Superfund site. Although virtually all of these metals exist in SCR in the dissolved form, upon entering Keswick Reservoir they at least partially converted via precipitation and/or adsorption to the particulate phase. In spite of this, few of the metals settled out; instead the vast majority was transported colloidally down the Sacramento River at least to Bend Bridge, 67 km from Keswick Dam.

The geochemical influence of IMM on the upper Sacramento River was variable, chiefly dependent on the flow of Spring Creek. Although the average flow of the Sacramento River at Keswick Dam is 250 m3/s (cubic meters per second), even flows as low as 0.3 m3/s from Spring Creek were sufficient to account for more than 15% of the metals loading at Bend Bridge, and these proportions increased with increasing Spring Creek flow.

The dissolved proportion of the total bioavailable load was dependent on the element but steadily decreased for all metals, from near 100% in Spring Creek to values (for some elements) of less than 1% at Bend Bridge; failure to account for the suspended sediment load in assessments of the effect of metals transport in the Sacramento River can result in estimates which are low by as much as a factor of 100.

Publication Year 2012
Title Distribution and geochemistry of selected trace elements in the Sacramento River near Keswick Reservoir
DOI 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2011.12.025
Authors Ronald C. Antweiler, Howard E. Taylor, Charles N. Alpers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Chemical Geology
Index ID 70032224
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Central Branch