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Sediment record of mining legacy and water quality from a drinking-water reservoir, Aztec, New Mexico, USA

August 27, 2020

The record of mining legacy and water quality was investigated in sediments collected in 2018 from four trenches in the Aztec, New Mexico, drinking-water reservoir #1. Bulk chemical analysis of sediments with depth in the reservoir revealed variable trace-element (uranium, vanadium, arsenic, copper, sulfur, silver, lead, and zinc) concentrations, which appear to coincide with historical mining and milling operations. Cesium-137 age dating, which identified the location of the 1963 radioactive fallout maximum, combined with the known age of the bottom and top of the sediment trenches, was used to estimate a polynomial sedimentation rate (average rate = 1.7 cm/yr). The clay size fraction (< 0.004 mm) was the dominant grain-size fraction of the sediments. Abundant fine-grained phyllosilicate (clay) minerals, predominantly montmorillonite and kaolinite, may explain sorption properties of trace elements. Scanning electron microscopy evaluation of sediments from two trenches showed copper and zinc associated with sulfur, and arsenic associated with iron and aluminum oxides. Results from laboratory batch experiments indicated that uranium, vanadium, and arsenic were released when sediments were reacted with a 150 mg/L sodium bicarbonate solution whereas copper was released when sediments were reacted with 2 mMol/L acetic acid. Observed concentrations from the two leach tests were below regulatory thresholds for delivery of solids to a landfill and were below drinking-water standards. Diatom relative abundance indicates that the water quality in the reservoir was not impaired by high metal concentrations.

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