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Lessons learned from the U.S. Geological Survey abandoned mine lands initiative: 1997-2002

March 30, 2006

Growth of the United States has been facilitated, in part, by hard-rock mining in the Rocky Mountains. Abandoned and inactive mines cause many significant environmental concerns in hundreds of watersheds. Those who have responsibility to address these environmental concerns must have a basic level of scientific information about mining and mine wastes in a watershed prior to initiating remediation activities. To demonstrate what information is needed and how to obtain that information, the U.S. Geological Survey implemented the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Initiative from 1997 to 2002 with demonstration studies in the Boulder River watershed in Montana and the Animas River watershed in Colorado. The AML Initiative included collection and analysis of geologic, hydrologic, geochemical, geophysical, and biological data. The synergy of this interdisciplinary analysis produced a perspective of the environmental concerns that could not have come from a single discipline. Two examples of these perspectives include (1) the combination of hydrological tracer techniques, structural geology, and geophysics help to understand the spatial distribution of loading to the streams in a way that cannot be evaluated by monitoring at a catchment outlet, and (2) the combination of toxicology and hydrology combine to illustrate that seasonal variability of toxicity conditions occurs. Lessons have been learned by listening to and collaborating with land-management agencies to understand their needs and by applying interdisciplinary methods to answer their questions.