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Spatially detailed quantification of metal loading for decision making: Metal mass loading to American fork and Mary Ellen Gulch, Utah

January 1, 2009

Effective remediation requires an understanding of the relative contributions of metals from all sources in a catchment, and that understanding must be based on a spatially detailed quantification of metal loading. A traditional approach to quantifying metal loading has been to measure discharge and chemistry at a catchment outlet. This approach can quantify annual loading and the temporal changes in load, but does not provide the needed spatial detail to evaluate specific sources, which is needed to support remediation decisions. A catchment or mass-loading approach provides spatial detail by combining tracer-injection and synoptic-sampling methods to quantify loading. Examples of studies in American Fork, Utah, and its tributary Mary Ellen Gulch illustrate this different approach. The mass-loading study in American Fork treated Mary Ellen Gulch as a single inflow. From that point of view, Mary Ellen Gulch was one of the greatest sources of Fe, Mn, Zn, and colloidal Pb loads to American Fork. But when Mary Ellen Gulch was evaluated in a separate catchment study, the detailed locations of metal loading were identified, and the extent of metal attenuation upstream from the mouth of Mary Ellen Gulch was quantified. The net, instantaneous load measured at the mouth of Mary Ellen Gulch for remediation planning would greatly underestimate the contributions of principal sources within the catchment. Extending the detailed sampling downstream from Mary Ellen Gulch indicated the possibility of diffuse groundwater inflow from Mary Ellen Gulch to American Fork. Comparing loads for Mary Ellen Gulch in the two studies indicates that metal loads could be substantially underestimated for planning purposes without the detailed catchment approach for the low-flow conditions in these studies. A mass-loading approach provides both the needed quantification of metal loading and the spatial detail to guide remediation decisions that would be the most effective in the catchments.