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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Colorado Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III


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Contact:
Bruce Stover
Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology
1313 Sherman Street
Denver, CO 80203
303-866-3567
bruce.stover@ state.co.us
Primary Sources of Pollution:

hard-rock mining

acid mine drainage
Primary NPS Pollutants:

zinc

cadmium
Project Activities:

diversion of mine works drainage into constructed wetland

underground diversion/earthen dam to segregate contaminated flows
Results:

surface diversion moved recovery zone upstream from 12 miles to 4 miles below the mining activity

underground diversion decreased dissolved zinc flows from 5,000 mg/L to 250 mg/L

Mining Remediation in the Chalk Creek Watershed:
Project Demonstrates Exciting Possibilities

 

Hard-rock mining in the Chalk Creek watershed of central Colorado was extensive, continuing on and off from the late 1870s into the 1950s. Chalk Creek and its tributaries drain the eastern slopes of the Collegiate Range, and the creek enters the Arkansas River 10 miles south of Buena Vista. The Colorado Division of Wildlife maintains the Chalk Cliffs Fish Rearing Unit in the lower reaches of the creek.

The single greatest contributor of heavy metals to the creek is the Mary Murphy Mine, located 1 mile above the town of St. Elmo. The Mary Murphy developed steeply dipping gold-silver deposits and lead-zinc sulfide fissure-vein deposits through extensive underground workings on 14 different levels in the Tertiary-aged Mount Princeton quartz-monzonite. The two lowest adit levels, the 2200 level Golf Adit (10,400-foot elevation) and the 1400 level Main Adit (11,200-foot elevation), continue to discharge at a rate of 222 gallons per minute (gpm), contributing 66.2 pounds per day of zinc to Chalk Creek at high flow. Chalk Creek was identified on Colorado's 1998 303(d) list as impaired due to zinc; the TMDL is scheduled for completion in 2006.

The watershed first came under scrutiny in 1986 after a fish kill at the rearing unit. The kill was attributed to elevated concentrations of metals in Chalk Creek during spring runoff. Water quality sampling at that time found zinc and cadmium at levels exceeding state water quality standards. The effects were reduction of the number of brown trout and elimination of young fish for a 12-mile stretch below the mining district. Metal concentrations in Chalk Creek peaked in the vicinity of the Mary Murphy Mine and the Iron Chest tailing piles. At that time it was suspected that interaction between mine drainage, creek flows, and the tailings piles contributed most of the metals in the stream.

Diversion to reduce metal loadings

A 319 project in 1991 consolidated five tailings piles to a location just below the Mary Murphy mill ruins. The consolidated tailings were stabilized and revegetated with grasses, forbs, and trees. The drainage from the mine works was diverted around the consolidation pile into a constructed wetland between the consolidated tailings and Chalk Creek.

Biotic sampling conducted by the Division of Wildlife in 1994 and 1997 found the recovery zone had moved upstream, from 12 miles to approximately 4 miles below the mining activity. Greater numbers of individuals, greater species diversity, and more diverse age classes are now represented in the creek. However, despite the impressive reductions in metal loadings from the now-reclaimed tailings sites, zinc loads still exceed state water quality standards.

Underground approaches to control continued discharges

The Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology (CDMG) completed hydrologic characterization at the Mary Murphy Mine in 1997. This work suggested that most of the flow coming from the adit portals was groundwater intercepted at discrete fault/fracture structures within the mine workings. Based on this work, underground inspection of the Golf Adit workings, and historical records of mining activity, an underground source-controls approach was developed and proposed, through the 319 NPS program and two other Clean Water Act grant sources.

In 1998 CDMG received $310,000 through three separate grants—$98,000 in 319 funds, $62,400 in 104(b)(3) funds, and $150,000 in an EPA multimedia grant—to implement underground flow characterization and control work over a 3-year period. This project was designed to demonstrate the source control approach, on a pilot scale, in only one level of the underground mine. This effort would essentially "untangle the plumbing" of the underground metals sources by determining where the groundwater was interacting with mineralized rock.

A loading analysis developed from flow and metals concentration data showed that 85 percent of the metals load exiting the Main Adit was attributed to one inflow from the north drift on the Mary Vein. The inflow constituted only 1.5 percent of the total discharge from the adit, but at high flow it had a total zinc concentration of 190,200 micrograms per liter (mg/L). The contaminated inflow was traced back to an ore chute on a high-sulfide stope on the north vein, which drained 15 gpm. This same high-concentration source also accounts for 70 percent of the zinc load discharging from the Golf Adit.

Flow measurements taken along the cross-cut adits of the Main level and Golf level indicated that clean groundwater inflows intercepted by the workings downstream from the contaminated stope inflow accounted for 70 percent of the total mine discharge volume. This proved that, at a minimum, it is possible to segregate the clean groundwater inflows from the mine discharge, reducing the total discharge needing treatment from the 90 to 222 gpm (low flow-high flow) range to the 5 to 20 gpm range. At these low volumes and high concentrations, many more passive or semipassive treatment options are available.

Success realized

CDMG conducted a demonstration of an underground diversion to control metals loading on the Main Adit level. A temporary, underground earthen dam was constructed by hand to divert the high-concentration flow. Subsequent sampling showed this diversion reduced dissolved zinc in the Main Adit flow from 5,000 mg/L to 250 mg/L, essentially eliminating the need for a treatment alternative at the 11,200-foot elevation site.

This project demonstrated exciting possibilities for addressing acid mine drainage. If clean inflows can be segregated, the volume of contaminated flows is greatly reduced and the scale of treating the remaining waste stream is greatly reduced. It now appears technically feasible to isolate underground sources of pollution to such an extent that it might be possible to eliminate 80 percent of the pollution source within a mine, rather than having to treat the discharge in perpetuity.

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Rio Blanco Restoration:
Adopted Rocks and Homemade Jelly Help Fund Demonstration Project

 


Contact:
Bruce Stover
Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology
1313 Sherman Street
Denver, CO 80203
303-866-3567
bruce.stover@ state.co.us
Primary Sources of Pollution:

hard-rock mining

acid mine drainage
Primary NPS Pollutants:

zinc

cadmium
Project Activities:

diversion of mine works drainage into constructed wetland

underground diversion/earthen dam to segregate contaminated flows
Results:

surface diversion moved recovery zone upstream from 12 miles to 4 miles below the mining activity

underground diversion decreased dissolved zinc flows from 5,000 mg/L to 250 mg/L
The Rio Blanco, a tributary to the San Juan River, originates at the Continental Divide in Archuleta County, Colorado. Elevation ranges from more than 13,000 feet to around 6,400 feet at the confluence with the San Juan River. Land ownership is mixed: the headwaters lie within the Southern San Juan Wilderness area, and the confluence is on the Southern Ute Reservation. Private land is interspersed, but primarily in the lower 12 miles. The river runs about 30 miles from source to confluence. The watershed averages about 250 inches of snow in the winter and 13 inches of rain in the summer.

In the 1950s Congress appropriated funding to construct the San Juan–Chama Diversion Tunnel. The tunnel would take water from the Rio Blanco, which is part of the Colorado River Basin, under the Divide into the Rio Grande Basin for use in New Mexico. The diversion is located about 12 miles from the confluence.

The system began operation in 1971 and diverted approximately 70 percent of the in-stream flow of the Blanco. A basin summary prepared in 1990 by the U.S. Forest Service found that

  • Fish habitat was poor.
  • Sediment loads were high because of flow changes and streambank erosion.
  • Sediment supply was greater than stream transport capacity.
  • Water temperatures were high.
  • Diversion and land use practices had created a wide, shallow stream with little pool and cover habitat.
The Rio Blanco is classified as an Aquatic Life Cold Water Class 1, Recreation Class 1 stream. Those uses, however, are not attained, resulting in the river's being listed on Colorado's 1998 303(d) list for sediment. A Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is scheduled for June 30, 2006. Colorado also holds an in-stream flow water right that provides for 29-cubic-foot-per-second (cfs) flows from May 1 to September 30 and for 20-cfs flows from October 1 through April 30. The right was appropriated in 1974 to protect fish and aquatic life in the river; however, the physical structure of the river precluded adequate habitat under those flows.

The diversion had created a completely new flow regime in the river. The principle being applied in Colorado's Nonpoint Source Management Program for Hydrologic Modification is to make the best use of the water remaining in the stream and to restore the stream to its designated uses.

The diversion altered the river's natural flow regime and adversely affected fish habitat.

The diversion altered the river's natural flow regime and adversely affected fish habitat.

Hydrologic modification projects

In 1997 the San Juan Water Conservancy District and Colorado Water Conservation Board initiated a demonstration project under Colorado's Nonpoint Source Management Program for hydrologic modification. The goal of the project was to improve stream water quality and aquatic habitat through (1) reducing low-flow water temperatures by narrowing and deepening the channel and creating overhead and in-stream cover and (2) reducing sediment loading by stabilizing banks and enhancing sediment transport capacity by increasing the stream width/depth ratios.

A total of $96,000 of 1997 section 319 funds were used in the demonstration. Matching funds totaling more than the required $64,000 were provided by contributions from the San Juan Water Conservancy District, Southwest Water Conservation District, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado Water Conservation Board, Archuleta County Commissioners, Pagosa Public Schools, Wetlands Hydrology, Lower Blanco Property Owners Association, and local landowners.

Match contributions were collected in unique ways, including an "Adopt a Rock" campaign that allowed people to sponsor a rock for use in the restoration. Also, the local homeowners association sold homemade chokecherry jelly, offering the proceeds as match. The Bureau of Reclamation provided a significant contribution by providing staff and equipment to haul large boulders to strategic sites along the river.

The J-hook in the foreground is typical of the structures installed in the river. It directs stream flow toward the thalwag and away from the banks.

The J-hook in the foreground is typical of the structures installed in the river. It directs stream flow toward the thalwag and away from the banks.

Early signs of restoration

The project overcame considerable opposition on the part of some adjacent landowners, who feared the reconstruction would adversely affect the water level in their alluvial wells. The project was finally constructed in fall 1999 over 1.1 miles of the river below the San Juan/Chama diversion. Some of the early observations include the following:

  • Pools within the river are now nearly 7 feet deep; previously, they were nonexistent or less than 2 feet deep.
  • The channel is well defined and meanders, instead of braiding through the width of the riverbed.
  • Water levels in alluvial wells have increased by 7 to 10 inches.
  • Within a week of the completion of construction, children were again catching 10- to 16-inch fish in this segment of the river.
These observations are particularly notable because the river was at its lowest flow of the year, approximately 17 cfs, when data were collected. Data collected after construction are still being evaluated.

The goal for the Rio Blanco has now expanded from demonstration to full restoration of the impaired segment of the river. An application has been made for FY2001 319 funding to complete the next 2.2 miles, with the intent of restoring the entire 12-mile segment.

Aquatic habitat was improved by adding a drop structure. The pool in this area is 7 feet deep and supports trout.

Aquatic habitat was improved by adding a drop structure. The pool in this area is 7 feet deep and supports trout.

 

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