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Use of natural and applied tracers to guide targeted remediation efforts in an acid mine drainage system, Colorado Rockies, USA

January 1, 2014

Stream water quality in areas of the western United States continues to be degraded by acid mine drainage (AMD), a legacy of hard-rock mining. The Rico-Argentine Mine in southwestern Colorado consists of complex multiple-level mine workings connected to a drainage tunnel discharging AMD to passive treatment ponds that discharge to the Dolores River. The mine workings are excavated into the hillslope on either side of a tributary stream with workings passing directly under the stream channel. There is a need to define hydrologic connections between surface water, groundwater, and mine workings to understand the source of both water and contaminants in the drainage tunnel discharge. Source identification will allow targeted remediation strategies to be developed. To identify hydrologic connections we employed a combination of natural and applied tracers including isotopes, ionic tracers, and fluorescent dyes. Stable water isotopes (δ18O/δD) show a well-mixed hydrological system, while tritium levels in mine waters indicate a fast flow-through system with mean residence times of years not decades or longer. Addition of multiple independent tracers indicated that water is traveling through mine workings with minimal obstructions. The results from a simultaneous salt and dye tracer application demonstrated that both tracer types can be successfully used in acidic mine water conditions.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Use of natural and applied tracers to guide targeted remediation efforts in an acid mine drainage system, Colorado Rockies, USA
DOI 10.3390/w6040745
Authors Rory Cowie, Mark W. Williams, Mike Wireman, Robert L. Runkel
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Water
Series Number
Index ID 70126514
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Colorado Water Science Center

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