Screening Assessment of Dissolved Zinc from Inactive Mines in a Mountain Watershed

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Abstract

A screening-level assessment of dissolved zinc from inactive and abandoned metal mines in the Cement Creek Basin was performed. The basin is part of the Upper Animas River Basin in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Stream discharge and dissolved zinc concentrations were measured at 49 stations below nonpoint sources including tailings and waste rock, point sources such as adits, and background areas. One measurement was made at a station during three flow events: storm runoff, peak snowmelt runoff, and baseflow. The highest concentrations occurred in the upper part of the basin immediately downstream from nonpoint and point source discharges, especially in the North Fork of Cement Creek. The mean concentration in Cement Creek was highest during baseflow (1350 μg l−1) and lowest during snowmelt (796 μg l−1). Most exceedances of national acute and chronic criteria for brown trout were chronic criteria exceedances in the upper part of the basin. Subareas with the greatest extent of nonpoint source areas in the upper part of the watershed, especially those contributing to Upper Cement Creek and the North Fork of Cement Creek, generally had the highest loadings and unit area loadings. The greatest loadings from all subareas to Cement Creek occurred during snowmelt (219 000 g day−1 and 17 400 kg for the snowmelt season). The highest unit area loadings from all subareas also occurred during snowmelt (190 g ha−1 day−1 and 15 147 g ha−1 for the snowmelt season). Loadings from subareas with extensive nonpoint source areas were always much greater than those from point sources and background areas.

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