US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Hydrol. Process. 22, 4011–4021 (2008)


Metals pollution in surface waters from point and non-point sources (NPS) is a widespread problem in the United States and worldwide (Lofts et al., 2007; USEPA, 2007). In the western United States, metals associated with acid mine drainage (AMD) from hardrock mines in mountainous areas impact aquatic ecosystems and human health (USEPA, 1997a; Caruso and Ward, 1998; Church et al., 2007). Metals fate and transport modelling in streams and watersheds is sometimes needed for assessment and restoration of surface waters, including mining-impacted streams (Runkel and Kimball, 2002; Caruso, 2003; Velleux et al., 2006). The Water Quality Analysis Simulation Program (WASP; Wool et al., 2001), developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), is an example of a model used for such analyses. Other approaches exist and appropriate model selection depends on site characteristics, data availability and modelling objectives. However, there are a wide range of assumptions, input parameters, data requirements and gaps, and calibration and validation issues that must be addressed by model developers, users and decision makers. Despite substantial work on model development, their successful application has been more limited because they are not often used by decision makers for stream and watershed assessment and restoration. Bringing together scientists, model developers, users and decision makers should stimulate the development of appropriate models and improve the applicability of their results.

To address these issues, the USEPA Office of Research and Development and Region 8 (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming) hosted a workshop in Denver, Colorado on February 13–14, 2007. The workshop brought together approximately 35 experts from government, academia and consulting to address the state of the art for modelling metals fate and transport, knowledge gaps and future directions in metals modelling. It focused on modelling metals in high-altitude streams, rivers and watersheds impacted by mine waste that are common in the western United States and require remediation. For example, there are over 100 000 abandoned or inactive mining sites across the United States, encompassing over 500 000 acres of land that may eventually require characterization and remediation, including the possible application of stream or watershed metals fate and transport modelling (USEPA, 1997a).

This article provides a general overview of the state of the science on modelling metals fate and transport in streams and watersheds, including a review of presentations and discussions at the USEPA workshop. It builds on previous summaries of metals fate and transport models in aquatic systems, including USEPA (1997b, 2007), Allen (2002), Paquin et al. (2003), Nordstrom (2004) and Maest et al. (2005).