US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Environmental Pollution 144 (2006) 774-782


Seasonal and spatial variations in metal concentrations and pH were found in a stream at a restored copper mine site located near a massive sulfide deposit in the Foothill copper-zinc belt of the Sierra Nevada, California. At the mouth of the stream, copper concentrations increased and pH decreased with increased streamflow after the onset of winter rain and, unexpectedly, reached extreme values 1 or 2 months after peaks in the seasonal hydrographs. In contrast, aqueous zinc and sulfate concentrations were highest during low-flow periods. Spatial variation was assessed in 400 m of reach encompassing an acidic, metal-laden seep. At this seep, pH remained low (2-3) throughout the year, and copper concentrations were highest. In contrast, the zinc concentrations increased with downstream distance. These spatial patterns were caused by immobilization of copper by hydrous ferric oxides in benthic sediments, coupled with increasing downstream supply of zinc from groundwater seepage.