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Hydrogeochemical effects of a bulkhead in the Dinero mine tunnel, Sugar Loaf mining district, near Leadville, Colorado

November 10, 2015

The Dinero mine drainage tunnel is an abandoned, draining mine adit near Leadville, Colorado, that has an adverse effect on downstream water quality and aquatic life. In 2009, a bulkhead was constructed (creating a mine pool and increasing water-table elevations behind the tunnel) to limit drainage from the tunnel and improve downstream water quality. The goal of this study was to document changes to hydrology and water quality resulting from bulkhead emplacement, and to understand post-bulkhead changes in source water and geochemical processes that control mine-tunnel discharge and water quality. Comparison of pre-and post-bulkhead hydrology and water quality indicated that tunnel discharge and zinc and manganese loads decreased by up to 97 percent at the portal of Dinero tunnel and at two downstream sites (LF-537 and LF-580). However, some water-quality problems persisted at LF-537 and LF-580 during high-flow events and years, indicating the effects of the remaining mine waste in the area. In contrast, post-bulkhead water quality degraded at three upstream stream sites and a draining mine tunnel (Nelson tunnel). Water-quality degradation in the streams likely occurred from increased contributions of mine-pool groundwater to the streams. In contrast, water-quality degradation in the Nelson tunnel was likely from flow of mine-pool water along a vein that connects the Nelson tunnel to mine workings behind the Dinero tunnel bulkhead. Principal components analysis, mixing analysis, and inverse geochemical modeling using PHREEQC indicated that mixing and geochemical reactions (carbonate dissolution during acid weathering, precipitation of goethite and birnessite, and sorption of zinc) between three end-member water types generally explain the pre-and post-bulkhead water composition at the Dinero and Nelson tunnels. The three end members were (1) a relatively dilute groundwater having low sulfate and trace element concentrations; (2) mine pool water, and (3) water that flowed from a structure in front of the bulkhead after bulkhead emplacement. Both (2) and (3) had high sulfate and trace element concentrations. These results indicate how analysis of monitoring information can be used to understand hydrogeochemical changes resulting from bulkhead emplacement. This understanding, in turn, can help inform future decisions on the disposition of the remaining mine waste and water-quality problems in the area.

Publication Year 2015
Title Hydrogeochemical effects of a bulkhead in the Dinero mine tunnel, Sugar Loaf mining district, near Leadville, Colorado
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2015.03.002
Authors Katherine Walton-Day, Taylor J. Mills
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied Geochemistry
Index ID 70159580
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Colorado Water Science Center; Toxic Substances Hydrology Program