Environmental Controls on Water Quality: Case Studies from Battle Mountain Mining District, North-Central Nevada

Michele L.W. Tuttle, Richard B. Wanty, and Byron R. Berger
The environmental controls on water quality were the focus of our study in a portion of the Battle Mountain mining district, north-central Nevada. Samples representing areas outside known mineralized areas, in undisturbed mineralized areas, and in mined areas were chemically and isotopically analyzed. The results are related to geologic, hydrologic, and climatic data. Streams in background areas outside the mineralized zones reflect normal weathering of volcanically derived rocks. The waters are generally dilute, slightly alkaline in pH, and very low in metals. As these streams flow into mineralized zones, their character changes. In undisturbed mineralized areas, discharge into streams of ground water through hydrologically conductive fractures can be traced with chemistry and, even more effectively, with sulfur isotopic composition of dissolved sulfate. Generally, these tracers are much more subtle than in those areas where mining has produced adits and mine-waste piles. The influence of drainage from these mining relicts on water quality is often dramatic, especially in unusually wet conditions. In one heavily mined area, we were able to show that the unusually wet weather in the winter and spring greatly degraded water quality. Addition of calcite to the acid, metalrich mine drainage raised the stream pH and nearly quantitatively removed the metals through coprecipitation and (or) adsorption onto oxyhydroxides. This paper is divided into four case studies used to demonstrate our results. Each addresses the role of geology, hydrology, mining activity and (or) local climate on water quality. Collectively, they provide a comprehensive look at the important factors affecting water
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