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Water 2014, 6(4), 745-777; doi:10.3390/w6040745
Article

Use of Natural and Applied Tracers to Guide Targeted Remediation Efforts in an Acid Mine Drainage System, Colorado Rockies, USA

1,* , 1
, 2
 and 3
1 Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309, USA 2 Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8, Denver, CO 80202, USA 3 Geological Survey, 3215 Marine St., Boulder, CO 80303, USA
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 2 December 2013 / Revised: 19 March 2014 / Accepted: 19 March 2014 / Published: 27 March 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Tracers)
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Abstract

Stream water quality in areas of the western United States continues to be degraded by acid mine drainage (AMD), a legacy of hard-rock mining. The Rico-Argentine Mine in southwestern Colorado consists of complex multiple-level mine workings connected to a drainage tunnel discharging AMD to passive treatment ponds that discharge to the Dolores River. The mine workings are excavated into the hillslope on either side of a tributary stream with workings passing directly under the stream channel. There is a need to define hydrologic connections between surface water, groundwater, and mine workings to understand the source of both water and contaminants in the drainage tunnel discharge. Source identification will allow targeted remediation strategies to be developed. To identify hydrologic connections we employed a combination of natural and applied tracers including isotopes, ionic tracers, and fluorescent dyes. Stable water isotopes (δ18O/δD) show a well-mixed hydrological system, while tritium levels in mine waters indicate a fast flow-through system with mean residence times of years not decades or longer. Addition of multiple independent tracers indicated that water is traveling through mine workings with minimal obstructions. The results from a simultaneous salt and dye tracer application demonstrated that both tracer types can be successfully used in acidic mine water conditions.
Keywords: mine hydrology; stream tracers; fluorescent dye tracers; acid mine drainage; water isotopes; groundwater mine hydrology; stream tracers; fluorescent dye tracers; acid mine drainage; water isotopes; groundwater
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Cowie, R.; Williams, M.W.; Wireman, M.; Runkel, R.L. Use of Natural and Applied Tracers to Guide Targeted Remediation Efforts in an Acid Mine Drainage System, Colorado Rockies, USA. Water 2014, 6, 745-777.

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