A Comparative Analysis of the Influence of Surface Mining on Hydrological and Geochemical Response of Selected Headwater Streams in the Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada.

Friday, 19 December 2014
Sean Kevin Carey, Nadine Joan Shatilla, Bernadeta Szmudrowska, Jessica Rastelli and Christopher Wellen, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada
Surface mining is a common method of accessing coal. Blasting of overburden rock allows access to mineable ore. In high-elevation environments, the removed overburden rock is deposited in adjacent valleys as waste rock spoils. As part of a multi-year R&D program examining the influence of surface mining on watershed hydrological and water quality responses in the Elk Valley, British Columbia, this study reports on how surface mining affects streamflow hydrological and geochemical response at four reference and four mine-influenced catchments. The hydrology of this environment is dominated by snowmelt and steep topographic gradients. Flows were attenuated in mine-influenced catchments, with spring freshet delayed and more muted responses to precipitation events observed. Dissolved ions were an order of magnitude greater in mine-influenced streams, with more dilution-based responses to flows compared with chemostatic behavior observed in reference streams. Stable isotope signatures in stream water suggested that in both mine-influenced and reference watersheds, stream water was derived from well mixed groundwater as annual variability of stream isotope signatures was dampened compared with precipitation signatures. However, deflection of stream isotopes in response to precipitation were more apparent in reference watersheds. As a group, mine influenced catchments had a heavier isotope signature than reference watersheds, suggesting an enhanced influence of rainfall on recharge. Transit time distributions indicate existing waste rock spoils increase the average time water takes to move through the catchment.