Evolution of the McLaughlin Gold Mine Pit Lakes, California

Rytuba, James J. ; Enderlin, Dean ; Ashley, Roger ; Seal, Robert ; Hunerlach, Michael P.
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 9
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2000
Cessation of open pit mining in 1996 at the McLaughlin hot-spring type gold deposit has resulted in the development of two pit lakes that will be managed as permanent lakes with a total storage capacity of 10,000 acre-feet. The south pit lake developed from alkaline ground water infiltration and had an initial pH of 7.2. It contained high concentrations of boron and chloride, indicating that it consisted of a mix of meteoric and evolved connate waters. Numerous carbon dioxide gas vents were present initially in the shallow south pit lake, but as the pit lake increased in depth, gas venting ceased and carbon dioxide is retained in the lower layer of the chemically stratified lake. Continued increase of dissolved carbon dioxide in the lower layer increases the potential for a limnic eruption. A chemocliie occurs at a depth of 47 m. The upper layer of the lake has lower pH, temperature, and conductivity than the lower layer. Effluent from ore and waste rock piles directed into the south pit lake has contributed to high levels of antimony, arsenic, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel, and zinc. Iron oxyhydroxide is abundant in mine effluent that enters the pit lake and adsorption onto this phase has lowered the arsenic and antimony concentrations. The north pit lake formed primarily from winter surface runoff. The acidic water, pH 4.56, initially had high concentrations of cobalt, mercury, and nickel derived from weathering products of pyritized serpentinite and shales. Buffering by wall rocks has established a slightly alkaline pH of 7.62. The concentrations of trace metals in the north pit lake have substantially decreased due to continued dilution of the lake by surface runoff and remediation of parts of the pit walls that have been covered by backfill.
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