A comparison of pre- and post-remediation water quality, Mineral Creek, Colorado


  • This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.


Pre- and post-remediation data sets are used herein to assess the effectiveness of remedial measures implemented in the headwaters of the Mineral Creek watershed, where contamination from hard rock mining has led to elevated metal concentrations and acidic pH. Collection of pre- and post-remediation data sets generally followed the synoptic mass balance approach, in which numerous stream and inflow locations are sampled for the constituents of interest and estimates of streamflow are determined by tracer dilution. The comparison of pre- and post-remediation data sets is confounded by hydrologic effects and the effects of temporal variation. Hydrologic effects arise due to the relatively wet conditions that preceded the collection of pre-remediation data, and the relatively dry conditions associated with the post-remediation data set. This difference leads to a dilution effect in the upper part of the study reach, where pre-remediation concentrations were diluted by rainfall, and a source area effect in the lower part of the study reach, where a smaller portion of the watershed may have been contributing constituent mass during the drier post-remediation period. A second confounding factor, temporal variability, violates the steady-state assumption that underlies the synoptic mass balance approach, leading to false identification of constituent sources and sinks. Despite these complications, remedial actions completed in the Mineral Creek headwaters appear to have led to improvements in stream water quality, as post-remediation profiles of instream load are consistently lower than the pre-remediation profiles over the entire study reach for six of the eight constituents considered (aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, copper, iron, and zinc). Concentrations of aluminium, cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc remain above chronic aquatic-life standards, however, and additional remedial actions may be needed. Future implementations of the synoptic mass balance approach should be preceded by an assessment of temporal variability, and modifications to the synoptic sampling protocol should be made if necessary. Published in 2009 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.