Pre-Mining Bed Sediment Geochemical Baseline in the Animas River Watershed, Southwestern Colorado

Church, Stanley E. ; Fey, David L. ; Blair, Robert
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Pages: 14
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2000
Determination of the pre-mining geochemical baseline in bed sediments in watersheds impacted by historical mining activity is important in establishing watershed restoration goals. We have developed methods to solve this problem in the Animas River watershed, southwestern Colorado, using geomorphologic mapping to identify terraces that contain pre-mining sediments. Following a systematic evaluation of possible sites, we collected samples of pre-mining sediments in gravel deposits from 21 sites throughout the watershed. Geochemical analysis of individual layers has produced a chemical stratigraphy that can be tied to the historical record through geochronological and dendochronological studies. Analysis of geochemical data, when coupled with the historical record, clearly shows that there has been a major impact on the geochemistry in bed sediments in the active stream channel by past mining activities. Historical mining has resulted in a substantial increase in metals in the very fine sand to clay-sized component of the bed sediment of the upper Animas River, and Cement and Mineral Creeks, which are the major tributaries of the Animas River. Enrichment factors for metals in modem bed sediments, relative to the pre-mining sediments, range from 1 to 6 for arsenic, 1 to more than 10 for cadmium, 1 to about 15 for copper, 1 to more than 25 for lead, 1 to more than 10 for silver, and 1.6 to more than 12 for zinc. The pre-mining bed sediment geochemical baseline is high relative to average crustal abundance values of many metals. The Animas River watershed above Silverton, Colorado would be readily identified as a highly mineralized area suitable for mineral exploration if it were not disturbed by mining.
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