CHARACTERIZING A GROUNDWATER SYSTEM DOWNGRADIENT OF A COAL MINE WASTE ROCK DUMP, ELK VALLEY, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
Seepage from steelmaking coal mine waste rock dumps in the Elk Valley, British Columbia, Canada can contain selenium (Se), cadmium (Cd), and sulfate (SO42-) from the oxidation of sulfide minerals, and nitrate (NO3-) from blasting. The impact of these constituents of interest (CIs) on receiving groundwater systems and the potential for their natural attenuation is investigated. A 10.7 km2 mine-impacted research catchment (West Line Creek) was instrumented with 13 monitoring wells and 8 drivepoint wells to characterize the hydraulics and geochemistry of the aquifer system downgradient of the waste rock dump. These data were augmented with geophysical surveys and by characterizing the lithology, geotechnical properties, and geochemistry of core samples obtained during drilling. Furthermore, the groundwater monitoring program also facilitated the development of a conceptual model of hydrogeology in a small montane valley. An unconfined aquifer at the overburden/fractured bedrock interface, i.e. the basal alluvial aquifer was identified as the primary groundwater conduit for the migration of water and solutes from the waste rock dump toward Line Creek. Vertical and horizontal dispersion of CIs was confirmed with porewater analysis of core samples, with Se concentrations exceeding the BC water quality guideline (2.0 µg/L) in 98% of samples (n = 223). Residence time for groundwater in the overburden aquifers was determined using 3H/3He age dating (n = 3) and estimates of groundwater velocity to be less than three years across the 650 m study site. The chemistry of groundwater was compared with rock drain water samples to evaluate CIs from their source through to identified discharge locations. Linear correlation of CI concentrations with SO42- concentrations in water samples showed that Se and NO3- were conservative solutes, whereas Cd was non-conservative and may be undergoing mineral precipitation or adsorption reactions in the groundwater system. The distribution of CIs in the overburden aquifers was seasonally variable and dilution was determined to be the dominant mechanism controlling the concentrations of conservative CIs (Se, SO42- and NO3-) away from the toe of the waste rock dump and during the spring freshet. The basal alluvial aquifer downgradient of the waste rock dump was estimated to annually discharge 16% of the water and 7% of the SO42- load from the catchment.
DegreeMaster of Science (M.Sc.)
SupervisorHendry, M. Jim; Barbour, S. Lee
CommitteeFerguson, Grant; Lindsay, Matthew; Cherie, Westbrook
Copyright DateSeptember 2015