Combining the synoptic mass balance approach with principal components analysis (PCA) can be an effective method for discretising the chemistry of inflows and source areas in watersheds where contamination is diffuse in nature and/or complicated by groundwater interactions. This paper presents a field-scale study in which synoptic sampling and PCA are employed in a mineralized watershed (Lion Creek, Colorado, USA) under low flow conditions to (i) quantify the impacts of mining activity on stream water quality; (ii) quantify the spatial pattern of constituent loading; and (iii) identify inflow sources most responsible for observed changes in stream chemistry and constituent loading. Several of the constituents investigated (Al, Cd, Cu, Fe, Mn, Zn) fail to meet chronic aquatic life standards along most of the study reach. The spatial pattern of constituent loading suggests four primary sources of contamination under low flow conditions. Three of these sources are associated with acidic (pH <3.1) seeps that enter along the left bank of Lion Creek. Investigation of inflow water (trace metal and major ion) chemistry using PCA suggests a hydraulic connection between many of the left bank inflows and mine water in the Minnesota Mine shaft located to the north-east of the river channel. In addition, water chemistry data during a rainfall-runoff event suggests the spatial pattern of constituent loading may be modified during rainfall due to dissolution of efflorescent salts or erosion of streamside tailings. These data point to the complexity of contaminant mobilisation processes and constituent loading in mining-affected watersheds but the combined synoptic sampling and PCA approach enables a conceptual model of contaminant dynamics to be developed to inform remediation.
- Digital Object Identifier: 10.1007/s11356-017-9038-x
- Source: USGS Publications Warehouse (indexId: 70188458)