Numerous abandoned or inactive mining sites are located on or adjacent to public lands administered by the Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMA). The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) plans to implement an Abandoned Mine Lands Initiative during fiscal years 1997 through 2001 to provide technical assistance in support of remediation of abandoned mine lands (AML) by FLMA. The Initiative will be implemented on a pilot scale in two watersheds, one each in Montana and Colorado.
This Initiative was part of a larger strategy by the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture to coordinate activities for the cleanup of Federal lands affected by AML. Therefore, activities included establishing partnerships with FLMA, Federal and local regulators, and stakeholders; the scientific information developed as part of this Initiative has been provided to Interior and other FLMA to support engineering efforts to design and implement cleanup actions.
This report provided an overview of the plans for the Initiative. The report provided background for why the Initiative was being conducted, described the conceptual approach to be employed, provided a description and contrast of the pilot watersheds, and provided a 5-year workplan for activities, as well as, a detailed first-year workplan for each pilot watershed.
Arriving at a precise number of AML sites or an accurate estimate of cleanup costs is problematic due to differences among agencies in classification of sites and data compilation. Because a complete inventory does not exist and would take years to assemble, the activities of the FLMA have focused on a watershed, rather than a site by site, approach to identify those priority watersheds within a state that are most at risk for environmental degradation from AML. The approach presented herein, represents a timely and cost-effective evaluation of the effects of AML on water quality in a watershed —ß a Watershed Approach.
The majority of AML in the Nation are on, or bordered by, land managed by FLMA, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the National Park Service (NPS). Those abandoned mines either on or affecting Federal land largely will require taxpayer's money to remediate.
Although estimates of the amount of AML vary, the scope of the problem is huge. According to a draft report, Federal Land Management: Information on Efforts to Inventory Abandoned Hard Rock Mines, by the General Accounting Office (1996), thousands of abandoned hard rock mines exist on Federal lands, a subset of which constitute physical safety or environmental degradation hazards. The Mineral Policy Center, an environmental research and advocacy group, estimates 557,650 AML sites in 32 states in its report, Burden of Gilt (Mineral Policy Center, 1993). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates over 200,000 sites (USEPA, 1996). According to the General Accounting Office (1996), 50-billion tons of mine waste (enough to fill 2,400 football fields each one mile high) have been generated, 14,400 sites need extensive work to prevent surface-water contamination, and 5,000 miles of streams are affected by acid drainage.
Cost estimates for remediating public AML are substantial. BLM estimates a range of from $4-$35 billion; the Mineral Policy Center estimates $33-$72 billion. No one disputes the USEPA's contention that "decades and billions of dollars will be required to identify and reclaim every site where mining has occurred" (USEPA, 1996).
More specifically, design of effective and cost-efficient remediation alternatives requires a basis in knowledge of the degree of contamination of the natural environment and the natural processes by which AML affect the environment. Knowledge of background (premining) conditions and ambient (current) conditions must be defined to identify the scope of cleanup actions, to define proper cleanup targets and to establish a baseline for monitoring cleanup performance. Design of cleanup actions must consider the processes by which contamination enters the environment and affects ecosystems so that those effects can be mitigated effectively and permanently. In general terms, effective and cost-efficient cleanup of AML requires an investment in a field characterization and a scientific understanding of how AML has disturbed the natural environment and natural ecosystems.
The goal of the Initiative is to develop a strategy for gathering and communicating the scientific information needed to develop effective and cost-efficient remediation of AML within the framework of a watershed approach. Important objectives of the Initiative were to:
Long-term process-based research, including development of analytical tools, is recognized as being critical to the long-term success in remediating the Nation's AML. However, long-term research must take place via programs other than this Initiative. The USGS will identify long-term research needs as they become apparent. Long-term research needs identified as a result of Initiative work effort may be addressed by ongoing Programs of the USGS or at the discretion of the participating agencies.
In general, the need for action is urgent for two reasons. First, delay in remediating affected areas will result in further environmental degradation and danger to plants, animals, and humans. Second, the longer we wait to remediate the areas, the higher cleanup costs.
Recently, Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture, particularly the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Geological Survey, have coordinated to develop a combined strategy for the cleanup of AML associated with Federal lands. The approach coordinates the activities of the 3 FLMA along with USGS, which, as science agency, will provide needed scientific information. In addition, significant preparatory work has been invested by many involved agencies. The states of Colorado and Montana, with endorsement of USEPA, and using information on a state-wide scale provided by USGS and other agencies, have selected the priority watersheds in their states for remediation of AML. Colorado has funded a Watershed Based AML assessment project through its Colorado Demonstration Program project in the Upper Animas River basin, its priority watershed. Montana has conducted a statewide inventory of AML and has developed the Abandoned and Inactive Mines Scoring System (AIMSS) for prioritizing abandoned mine sites; the Boulder River basin has been selected as Montana's priority watershed for remediation of AML. FLMA are coordinating funding for design and implementation of remedial actions in these watersheds starting in FY97. If the proper scientific information is provided now, effective remedial actions with considerable cost savings can be realized.
The mission of the USGS (USGS, 1996) is to provide reliable, impartial information to describe and understand the Earth and its resources. Information is communicated timely and effectively for use in:
As the Nation's major earth science agency, the USGS provides assistance to other Federal Agencies in the form of scientific information that is critical to the proper management of Federal lands. The scientific information needed for implementation of a watershed approach to cleanup of AML requires the integrated application of a wide range of expertise available in the USGS, including water quality, hydrology, geology, geochemistry, ecology, mapping, and digital data collection and management. The USGS has a track record of providing expertise that resulted in resource- and/or process-based insights at many AML, including Summitville, CO; Pinal Creek, AZ; Monument Valley, UT; Iron Mountain, CA; Clark Fork, MT; and Coeur d'Alene, ID. The combination of interdisciplinary scientific expertise, experience in conducting unbiased scientific research throughout the U.S., a national infrastructure, consistent quality-assurance protocols, experience in maintaining National environmental databases, and experience working with organizations at Federal, State, Tribal and local levels enables the USGS to make a unique contribution to its Federal partners which cannot be provided by private industry or academia.
The short-term product of this Initiative is scientific information on the geology, hydrology, geochemistry, and ecology that describe the response of the pilot watersheds in Colorado and Montana to recent and historic mining activities. The information takes the form of environmental data, interpretations of those data, and conclusions developed from field experiments, all designed to characterize the degree of disturbance of the environment and natural ecosystems and to test specific hypotheses regarding the controlling processes. Environmental data vary in form from spatial data collected over broad geographic areas to point measurements of specific environmental characteristics are published in a variety of formats.
The scientific information provided on the individual watersheds in Colorado and Montana were used to make decisions by the FLMA and stakeholders related to design and implementation of remedial action. The information was used to identify cleanup targets, to define expectations for cleanup actions (measures of success), to evaluate the cumulative effect of sites on the watershed, to identify priority sites for cleanup activities, and to select and design specific remediation alternatives.
A major outcome from each of the pilot watersheds will be "lessons-learned" on what data and analyses are most effective and what products are most useful to land management agencies. Successful demonstration of the watershed approach employed in the Initiative should encourage regulatory agencies to adopt this approach on a larger scale across other Federal- and privately-owned lands Nationwide.
Investigation of contaminated environments is identified in the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Geological Survey, 1996 to 2005 (USGS, 1996), as a primary business activity for the USGS in the next decade. Contaminated environments associated with AML are an important and urgent National environmental problem. The commitment of resources identified in this workplan to develop a strategy for the collection and interpretation of scientific information to support FLMA efforts to remediate these contaminated environments, demonstrates the USGS commitment to contribute to the solution of this problem and maintain its leadership role as the Nation's earth-science agency.
The USGS (1996) Strategic Plan has identified 5 core competencies as skills, characteristics and assets to be nurtured and strengthened for future success of the agency. Implementation of the AML Initiative will further develop these core competencies by
Commonly, the remediation of contaminated sites is considered on a site by site basis. Recently however, it is becoming acknowledged that a cost- and time-efficient alternative is to identify and remediate those sites within a watershed that most substantially impact water quality and public safety. USEPA (1995) states:
Remediation of an entire fluvial system is unrealistic; instead, technology should be developed to address the hot spots of pollution occurring in the system. In fluvial systems, targeting key areas is essential to obtain the greatest benefit from scarce resources Such a watershed approach:
By aggressively remediating the highest priority sites, it is anticipated that a high degree of improvement in the watershed can be achieved in a rapid manner. Additionally, the cumulative effect of multiple sources of contamination may constitute an adverse environmental impact. Evaluation at the watershed scale enables assessment of such cumulative effects, as well as, evaluation of the appropriate response.
The Watershed Approach has four general components:
A summary of these components, including a broad overview of the USGS role and relation with other agencies, follows.
Work under this component focuses on gathering and integrating technical information for prioritizing watersheds within a State for remediation. The USGS support includes acquiring, collecting' analyzing, and integrating data at the State scale on the physical, biological, and human factors that are related to acid mine drainage, and developing digital or hard copy products which display this information in ways useful to the FLMA. The FLMA will use this data along with other information to prioritize watersheds and select one for detailed examination and remediation.
In Colorado and Montana, watersheds have been prioritized and selected for action. Information provided by existing USGS Programs were used to help make those selections. This Initiative will focus on the subsequent 3 components in the Colorado and Montana Watersheds. Existing USGS Programs provided information in other states to assist in statewide prioritization elsewhere, those efforts are not a part of this Initiative.
Within the selected watershed, the USGS analyzes the extent, sources, and effects of contamination by characterizing selected geological, hydrological and biological characteristics. The USGS collects preliminary monitoring data at the watershed scale. This includes developing a conceptual understanding of sites and potential processes that control the occurrence and transport of contaminants, identifying sites that have the greatest possibility of having deleterious effects on water quality and biota, and where possible, estimating the magnitude of the effects. Data collected will be maintained in an appropriate data base, and maps and/or other products showing the results of the characterization will be provided to the FLMA. The FLMA, using desired consultation with USGS, will use this information to prioritize sites for remedial action.
The USGS performs detailed characterization of sites chosen for remediation to support the FLMA in developing and implementing a remediation plan. The USGS characterizes the geology, mineralogy, hydrology, and ecology of the sites, quantifies contaminant fluxes, and quantifies process controlling occurrence and transport of contaminants from the sites. Data are archived in the data base and in map and/or other report products. The USGS modifies monitoring network to include data on conditions in the vicinity of the sites. This information is used to provide the FLMA with advice on reasonable remediation goals, and on the types and potential effectiveness of various remedial measures. The FLMA use this information to develop and implement a remediation plan.
The USGS evaluates established monitoring networks, and designs, implements, and operates, for one year, a monitoring program to analyze the effectiveness of remediation. Where possible, the USGS provides comparative data to illustrate the effectiveness. The FLMA evaluate the monitoring data, and after one year, arrange for continuation of the monitoring program.
An overall schedule of activities is provided later in this report, in the section, Workplan for Pilot Watershed Investigations; specific products and timelines will be determined in concert with the FLMA. Maintaining a close support/advisory role to the FLMA is one of the most important products of the Initiative; this required frequent, informal communications between the USGS, the FLMA, and others with a vested interest in the pilot watersheds (USGS Fact Sheet 095-99, USGS Open-File Report 00-0245, USGS Water Resources Investigations Repport 99-4018A). Plans for work tasks, products and associated milestones must be closely coordinated with the FLMA. This informal communication will be particularly useful in those cases where the need for technical information precedes the planned release of formal report products.
There are three levels at which the success of the overall USDA-DOT effort to implement a watershed approach to remediating AML may be measured. Considering that USGS and this Initiative have a very specific role within that larger effort, measures of success that are defined herein are based specifically on the USGS contribution to the overall effort through the USGS AML Initiative The three levels of evaluation of success are;
At the State level, ultimate success depends on the degree of reduction of AML related contamination and improvement of watershed quality within the pilot watershed. Success at this level is a function of numerous factors, including the quality and timeliness of information provided by the USGS, the nature of background conditions within the basin, the availability of funds for remediation, successful installation of engineered remediation, and the effectiveness of the selected remedial methods implemented.
Valid measures of USGS performance include: the timeliness and usefulness of information provided by USGS and the effectiveness of USGS in the support/advisory role. At the National level, success will be based on whether the USGS has developed an appropriate strategy for gathering and communicating the scientific information needed to support decisions related to design and implementation within the framework of a Watershed Approach. Valid measures of USGS performance include preparation of a report identifying the "Lessons Learned" from the USGS Initiative (Kimball and others, 2006, PDF file, 392 KB), documenting the USGS approach and including an assessment of the most effective and useful data, procedures, measurements, and analytical techniques. The Initiative will be complete when the USGS has supported remediation in the two pilot watersheds through at least one year of monitoring, and has documented their approach. This document may become a general guide for characterizing AML in support of remediation. An additional measure would be widespread acceptance or rejection of the Watershed Approach (Boulder River, upper Animas River) based, at least in part, on proper execution and results of the USGS Initiative. Within the USGS, additional measures of success are improved coordination between scientists and technical transfer of scientific methods developed within existing USGS Programs to the field. Valid measures of USGS success include reports and other products prepared by a team of multidisciplined scientists which comprehensively address the AML problem, and demonstration of the value of research methods applied in the Initiative. Numerous examples are listed in the AMLI Reports.
The organizational structure and primary lines of communication for this Initiative are shown in Figure 1. Overall program management of this Initiative will be coordinated via an AML Initiative Implementation Team located at USGS Headquarters, consisting of a representative from each USGS Division. This team was responsible for performing program-level planning and budget, representing the Initiative at the DOI and Bureau levels, facilitating coordination with other Federal agencies in the field, identifying Divisional funding resources needed to accomplish the Initiative, and acting as a conduit of information between the Director's Office, the Divisions, and the State Watershed Teams.
Initiative activities in each watershed (Colorado and Montana), were coordinated, planned and implemented by a State Watershed Team consisting of a representative from each Discipline. The team members were selected based on the skills required to accomplish the Initiative. The Watershed Team was located in the same Region as the watershed.
The State Watershed Team was responsible for technical oversight of the work, identifying the resources required for all work tasks, coordinating development of multidisciplinary work plans, providing progress reports, external coordination with FLMA and other involved groups, resolving problems in concert with Regional management, and with the AML Implementation Team, and representing the State Watershed Team at meetings.
The Water Resources Discipline (WRD) was identified as the lead for the USGS AML Initiative. As such, WRD has the primary responsibility for coordination and management of the Initiative. The WRD representatives on the Implementation and State Watershed Teams are designated as their respective Team leaders.
Two types of work plans were maintained for Initiative activities, a 5-Year Plan for the entire term of the Initiative, and a 1-Year Workplan for the current year activities. The 5-Year Plans were developed for each Watershed cover all Initiative work efforts in a watershed, and coordinate multi-disciplinary science studies and development of the final project report. Each 1-Year Workplan outlined work to be executed during that year and include detailed information on work elements, staffing assignments, and expenditures.
Progress reports were provided to the AML Implementation Team by the Watershed Team on a regular basis. Review meetings with the AML Implementation Team and both Watershed Teams were held on a biannual basis. Coordination between Watershed Teams was emphasized by these joint meetings and by exchange of quarterly progress reports. Members of the Watershed Teams scheduled periodic meetings or teleconference calls to further compliment coordination.
Problem resolution occurred at the lowest possible organizational level. Funds for the Initiative were provided by the Disciplines on a yearly basis. Development of subsequent 1-Year Workplans clarified funding needs annually for each watershed.
The role of the USGS in this Initiative was to provide technical data, information, and support to the land management agencies for remediation of AML. Therefore, coordination with the BLM, NPS, USFS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, regulatory agencies including USEPA, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality Abandoned Mines and Reclamation Bureau, the Colorado Water Quality Control Commission, the Colorado Geological Survey, the Colorado Division of Mines and Geology, and other stakeholders, such as the Animas River Stakeholders Group (Bill Simon, Coordinator - a group of public and private stakeholders in the Colorado watershed), was critical to the ultimate success of the Initiative. The FLMA were the primary contact for the USGS AML Initiative. The information supplied by USGS was used by FLMA to guide their actions for cleanup of AML under regulatory and public oversight. USGS coordination with other involved parties, including regulatory and other stakeholders groups, was coordinated with the administering FLMA. A FLMA Liaison Committee was established and was comprised of a representative from the FLMA that administer lands within the pilot watersheds. The primary members of this committee were:
In addition, Robert Higgins National Park Service (NPS), CO; Joe Galetovic, Office of Surface Mining, Western Regional Coordinating Center, Denver CO; and David Paul, Bureau of Reclamation, Technical Services Center, Denver CO were invited to participate as advisory members of this committee. Although these agencies do not administer lands within the pilot watersheds, their perspective on implementing a Watershed Approach on a broader scale Nationally was requested. Coordination with the other involved parties described above was done through the public and advisory committees of the administering FLMA.
Contact also was made with USEPA, Office of Water, Hardrock Mining Workgroup (James Taft and Irene Dooley) to encourage coordination. The FLMA Liaison Committee will participate in the biannual review meetings. The quarterly progress reports also will be provided to the Liaison Committee. It was the responsibility of the Watershed Team leaders to maintain close contact with the FLMA.
The AML Implementation Team coordinated with the AML Interdepartmental Task Force, which included members from the DOI and the headquarters of the FLMA. Contacts with cooperators regarding supplemental funding of USGS activities were coordinated with the lead representatives of the Watershed Team.
Pilot watersheds for the AML Initiative were the upper Animas River watershed, located near Silverton in southwestern Colorado, and the Boulder River watershed, located near Basin in western Montana, about 25 miles south of Helena.
The upper Animas River Basin (Fig. 2) was selected by Federal and State regulatory and land-management agencies in March 1996 as the priority watershed in Colorado using a prioritization process that considered the available data, ongoing activities, and water-quality impairment from abandoned mines. The Boulder River area was chosen in May 1996 from five candidate watersheds by Federal and State land management and natural-resources agencies based on a preliminary analysis of metal loading, the status of ongoing remediation activities, general knowledge of the candidate watersheds, and existence of both USFS and BLM administered lands in the watershed.
Although the physiography and mining history of each watershed have many similarities, many socioeconomic factors and the degree of mining impacts are different (Table 1). Both watersheds are in mountainous terrain with abundant snowfall, however annual precipitation is significantly less in the Boulder River basin. The Upper Animas River watershed contains 146 square miles compared to the 90 square miles in the Boulder River watershed. The shape and drainage patterns are different. In Colorado, the study area consists of the entire Animas River basin upstream of Silverton. In contrast, the Montana study site encompasses the drainage basins of three adjacent Boulder River tributaries (Basin, Cataract, and High Ore Creeks) and a short reach of the Boulder River downstream of the tributary confluences. Both areas have a long history of metal mining dating back to the late 1800's. Most mining activity ceased by the 1940's, although some activity occurred as recently as the 1990's. Principal commodities included gold, silver, lead, and zinc. Ore bodies are sulfidic and acid mine drainage occurs in both areas. The number of abandoned mines is higher in the upper Animas River basin (over 1,500) as opposed to about 150 in the Boulder River study area. Much of the mining in both study areas occurred on privately owned (patented) mining claims. However, some mine, mill, and smelter sites and tailings deposits--along with eroded tailings distributed along various reaches of stream channels and flood plains--are located on land administered by the USFS and BLM.
Populations in both areas vary seasonally as tourists and temporary residents move into the watersheds during the summer. The population of the Upper Animas River basin ranges from 500 to 3,500 while the population of the Boulder River study area is always less than 200. In the Upper Animas River basin, the primary industry is tourism based on the historic mining and local fisheries. Residents of the Boulder River study area are engaged primarily in mining, logging, or agricultural activities.
The primary mining impact in both watersheds is degraded water quality and the consequent affects on aquatic and fishery resources. Some streams are devoid of fish and many others are thought to have impaired fisheries caused by poor water quality and aquatic habitat degraded by mine tailings. Abandoned mines affect streams through direct discharge of acid drainage from edits, seepage from tailings piles, and erosion of tailings by storm runoff or stream bank erosion. The extent of subsurface contaminant movement is virtually unknown. The extent of mining impact is more severe in Colorado, where mining-related impacts have been documented downstream to Durango and the San Juan valley.
Many of the AML that appear to be having a serious impact on surface-water quality and local fisheries in the Boulder River watershed have been inventoried for the BLM and USFS by the State. These inventories included some water and tailing chemical analyses and have helped to target AML that are likely candidates for remedial activities. In recent years, the State has been active in remediating portions of the Comet mine on privately owned land in the upper High Ore Creek basin. Other remediation efforts in the Boulder River area are being planned by the State and BLM for the near future.
Commensurate with the greater impact and higher population, the upper Animas River watershed has substantially greater amount of existing natural resource information, extent of AML characterization completed to date, and degree of public concern and involvement. In contrast to the Boulder River area, where AML remediation is only beginning to be an important issue, active public involvement and inter-agency cooperation in addressing AML remediation has a long history in the upper Animas River watershed.
The State of Colorado Water-Quality Control Commission has set goals for instream water-quality standards for streams in the upper Animas River watershed. The Commission has empowered the local Animas River Stakeholders Group (ARSG) to develop a plan to remediate water quality. The FLMA's and the USGS are active participants in the ARSG and were actively involved in providing data for and extensively reviewing this report for the FLMA and the ARSG. The ARSG presented to the Commission a review of instream water-quality standards in 1998. The ARSG represents private, local, state, and federal entities.
|Comparison||Upper Animas River (CO)||Boulder River (MT)|
|Drainage Area (mi2)||146||90|
|Precipitation (in/yr)||40||14 - 30|
|Lots of snow||yes||yes|
|Elevation (ft)||9,200 - >14,000||5,100 - 8,000|
|Primary fish species||brown trout||rainbow trout|
|Population||200 - 3,500||100-150|
|Major Industry||tourism||logging, mining, cattle|
|Public interest in AML
- within watershed
|Public interest in AML
|FLMA||USFS, BLM||USFS, BLM|
|Geology||Intercaldera lavas - hydrothermally altered||Granitic batholith - veins|
|Metals mined||Ag, Au, Pb, Zn||Ag, Cu, Pb, Zn (Au)|
|Major mining period||1880- 1990||1870-1940|
|Abandoned mines||1 ,500||120|
* Stakeholder sponsored
** State sponsored
The Animas and Boulder River watershed projects were completed in 2001. Numerous publications have resulted from this work. These smaller topical studies are published in journal articles. Readers are referred to the bibliography to survey those publications. Analytical results were generally released in separate U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Reports. These too are listed in the bibliography and many are accessible online via the website.
The overall project summaries are published in two U.S. Geological Survey Professional Papers. The results of the Animas River watershed studies were published as Professional Paper 1651. The results of the Boulder River watershed studies are summarized in Professional Paper 1652. In each volume, chapter A is written in the format of an executive summary of the accomplishments for a general populace. Chapter B is written for a more technical audience. This chapter provides a brief summary of each of the subsequent technical chapters so that a technical reader can evaluate the scope and content of the chapter. Chapter B is intended to be used as a "road map" for the technical reader to assist them in finding the technical studies they might wish to read in depth.
Note: Contacts and USGS Disciplines were accurate during the time of project activities, 1997-2001.
General Accounting Office, 1996, FEDERAL LAND MANAGEMENT: Information on Efforts to Inventory Abandoned Hard Rock Mines, Draft Report to the Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Resources, House of Representatives, GAO/ RCED-96-30, 17p.
Lyon, J.S., Hilliard, T.J., and Bethell, T.N., 1993, Burden of Gilt: Mineral Policy Center, Washington, D.C., 68p.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1996, Draft Final Hardrock Mining Framework: Washington D.C., 66p.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995, Workshop Report: Mine Waste Technical Forum: Las Vegas, Nevada, July 25-27, 1995, 3 Chapters.
U.S. Geological Survey, 1996, Strategic Plan for the U.S. Geological Survey 1996 to 2005: U.S.Geological Survey, Reston Virginia, 52p.